As I mentioned in my last hunger post, I used to work on Public Square in Downtown Cleveland. One day, I headed out at lunchtime to grab a bite to eat.
As I joined the busy people on Euclid Avenue rushing to their destinations, I noticed a stocky man up ahead trudging along slowly, carrying white plastic bags in each hand. He stopped to pick through a garbage can.
I watched in horror as he looked inside every bag he could reach. I know that people go trash picking for recyclables they can return for a refund.
But this man, who appeared to be about 60, was opening every wadded-up sandwich wrapper. He must have been looking for scraps of food, too.
It was heartbreaking.
Immediately, I thought of the fresh bagels sitting on the counter at work, left over from our morning meeting. I hurried back into the building and headed into the office kitchen.
I found a bag and filled it with two huge bagels, a paper plate, napkins, a plastic knife, and couple of cream cheese packs. Then I rushed out to Euclid to try to find the man.
I looked in the direction of the garbage can but did not see him at all. I turned and checked the opposite way, but no luck either.
Where could he have gone?
I quickly rounded the corner to Superior Avenue and continued my search. I glanced down the street but did not see him anywhere.
Starting to worry that I had lost him, I turned to look the other way. Off in the distance, I saw him resting on the ground, leaning against one of the buildings, his white plastic bags at each side. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I hustled along in his direction, determined to get the bagels to him. But suddenly, he stood up and began walking away.
I was never going to catch up with him at this rate.
So, I started running up Superior, in my suit and 4-inch heels. (The kind with the ankle straps comes in handy.) When I was within earshot, I called out to him.
"Sir! Excuse me, Sir!"
But he kept on walking.
"EXCUSE ME, SIR!" I shouted.
This time, he heard me. He came to a halt, still with his back to me. Robotically, he turned his head to the left, then to the right.
Realizing there was no other gentleman being summoned, he ever-so-slowly turned around, his face weary and expressionless. He stood perfectly still, holding his bulky plastic bags as he waited for me to catch up to him.
"I brought you bagels," I said, a bit out of breath, holding up my paper bag.
He just stared at me. Undeterred, I gestured toward a flat wooden bench near the street. I walked over and patted the seat.
"Come, sit down," I invited him. I took out a white napkin, unfolded it, and spread it on the bench like a tablecloth.
Still speechless, the man came over to me and sat down. He watched as I unpacked my bag, one item at a time.
"I brought you cream cheese," I told him. "Do you like cream cheese?" I could hear the hope in my voice.
His face broke into a smile, and he finally spoke.
"Yes, yes I do!" he said. I could hear the anticipation in his voice.
Smiling, I took out the cream cheese and began peeling back the foil lid for him. (I can't help it.)
As I handed him the loaded plate, our eyes locked for a long moment, each of us searching, as if peering into the other's soul. I felt warmth and brotherly love. When he spoke again, it was almost a whisper.
"You...you have such a good heart," he said, still looking into my eyes. "Thank you."
Instinctively, I reached out to touch his forearm in a gesture of goodbye.
"God bless you!" I told him, before turning and walking away.
This time, though, my pace was much slower and pensive — more like that of my newfound friend. Perhaps it was because some of his burden had been transferred to my shoulders.
Cheryl, thanks so much for sharing your story. You raise an important point about dignity. Sometimes, that is what keeps people from asking for help in the first place. Sometimes, we need to make the first move and reach out.
C. L. Wiser (Cheryl)
Oh Andrea, (I have a cousin named Andrea and I love her to death)! If I could only have the time to share with you stories about hunger and similar instances, oh my heavens...No one in AMERICA should be hungry-no child should go to bed hungry. As a child I was around my Daddy's restaurant and also my Uncle (Restaurant-both in Florida), a plethora of foods always available. Mom cooked at home and many of those recipes I cook today. My father taught me food safety, cleanliness, strong work ethic, a good charitable heart, and a host of other things. While in High School I worked at my Dad' restaurant and one day a man came in and stood in the doorway. He seemed to be dis-orientated, dirty, and a bit scary to me ( what would you expect at 15 years old?). I watched my father approach the man ( probably in his late 50's or so) they spoke a few words and my Dad led him to the back (family) booth of the Restaurant. He then went and prepared a feast for this man, starting with a fresh cup of coffee. After the meal was completed the man got up and went with my Dad to the rear of the kitchen area, he began emptying garbage cans from the rear kitchen, I saw him sweeping the floor. He spoke a few more words to my Dad and he turned and left. My Dad told me later when I questioned him about the man, he was desperately hungry but would only accept a meal if he could work to pay for it. My father would have given him a free meal and asked nothing of him, he agreed for the sake of this man's pride. I never saw the man again however, I know Daddy did this type of thing many times. My father was 100% Greek, his parents from the Island of Crete (living in U.S.), he was one of eight children. My mother French-Canadian/Italian. My cooking experiences have been blessed by both sides of my family heritage. So, in conclusion Andrea I can relate to you most profoundly. Best Regards, Cheryl.
Good work, Andrea.
Thank you, Patty.