February 16, 2012

the freestore foodbank, cincinnati cooks!

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                               Cincinnati Cooks! Student

     Some things can just be kept simple.  Some things are so elemental that we needn't overcomplicate them with our opinions, our politics, or biases, or our religions.  One such thing is the requirement that every man, woman, and child on earth should have the opportunity to nourish his or her body with food and clean water.  If you are reading this, you are, most likely, seated in a comfortable, sheltered environment, with access to electricity, clean water, and sanitary disposal of waste.  You have probably also eaten today and you won't have to question whether or not you'll eat tomorrow.  I'm one of you.  We're the fortunate and we're in the minority.  In a true world view, WE are the 1%.

Chopping Skills at Cincinnati Cooks!
     When we hear about hunger, the first impulse is to the let the mind wander across great expanses of ocean, sand, and brush, and to imagine people living in places whose names we can't pronounce, speaking languages, which, to us, sound as though they are comprised of things which are not words.  This gives us separation.  This gives them an "otherness" quality.  This makes them too foreign, too far, too difficult to help. 

     Perhaps, then if the task of wrapping our minds and our hearts around the problem of hunger, in people who are oceans and deserts away from our wireless access points, is too stultifying, then, we should look only around the corner, down the block, up the highway, or across the river.

     I'm guessing that most of us rarely think about the daily struggle of people who are truly in need.  We might casually click "like" next to a status update containing some profundity or another about poverty, homelessness, or unemployment.  I'm likely to even get some "great article" comments on this post.  But, what will you actually do?  What will I do?  How can I change so that I might help others whom I don't even know?  We may not dwell upon these things at present, but we can start to.  One thing which I know will help, is to become inspired by others who are already doing it.

photo by Steve Metz                                                                                       John: President/CEO of the Freestore Foodbank

Cincinnati Cooks! Student
     There is a wonderful organization, full of dedicated, soulful people who wake up every day with a purpose in their hearts.  We're very lucky that we have them.  It's the Freestore Foodbank.  Their mission statement says it better than anything I could possibly say.  We provide food and services, create stability, and further self-reliance for people in crisis.

     Last year, the Customer Connections Division and the Foodbank Division of the Freestore, combined to serve almost 19 million meals in the Cincinnati area.  That's 19 million meals, which did not come from anyone else, which were eaten by people who simply needed food.  The Customer Connections Division alone, fed over 160,000 individuals from its downtown Cincinnati location.

Cincinnati Cooks! Student

     The Freestore Foodbank welcomed me, as it welcomes everyone, like a family member, to its Central Parkway offices, where I visited the Cincinnati Cooks! operation, to snap some photos and speak with a few people.  Cincinnati Cooks! is a free training program, provided by the Freestore, for at risk adults.  It prepares participants for employment in the food industry in and around our city.  The program includes job placement assistance, career coaching, and mentoring.  The majority of students arrive without work, and leave having a new job and the prospect for a productive career.  Some of the students have even come back to the Freestore to help run the program, after having first spent some time in the field.  See Marcus, below, for example.

"Food is the entry point into people's lives for our organization," John Y., President/CEO of the Freestore Foodbank told me.  "It's a bridge.  It helps us find out what other tools they may need to become self-sufficient."  The Freestore not only feeds its customers, it also helps them locate other social services: vital resources on the path towards reconstruction and independence, which is always the Freestore's goal.  Incidentally, I'd like to tell you that the smile in John's portrait, above, is absolutely genuine.  There was a rich, warm, and shared type of caring in the place: a genuine sense of happy pride that comes from selfless accomplishment, exuded by all, but none more so than John.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                               Stove at Cincinnati Cooks!

     As I left the facility that day, I thought about the fact that I, as a 44 year old man, have never had to experience true hunger.  I began to wonder how many small, wrong turns I might have been away from a much less fortunate life, or, might even still be.  There are a million different ways for a life to fall apart: a drinking problem, recovery form which comes just a little too late, the unexpected loss of a spouse, or worse a child, the onset of an unexpected disease at exactly the wrong time, a broken heart.  Anything unexpected is a possible entry point into a time of need.  What if my life was the one from the mission statement...the life in crisis?  How thankful I would be for people just like those who had welcomed me that day.

Marcus: Sous Chef, Cincinnati Cooks!
Fernando: Master Chef/Trainer

     What is it that makes us human?  To me, it is brother-and-sister-hood.  It is about having an understanding that I am a being who makes choices, which impact not only myself, but my loved ones, my community, and my earth.  It is about understanding that when one of us suffers, we all suffer, and, when one of us rises from suffering, to thrive, we all thrive.  So, maybe if you and I make small changes in our lives, we can gradually extend our vision to include more and more of our brothers and sisters.  Let's start with our neighbors.  Maybe, if we do this for long enough and with enough purity of heart and goodwill towards others, this vision will extend across the oceans, sand, and brush, which now seem like juggernauts.  I know that I'm going to be trying.

Freestore Foodbank: web

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