Friday, July 09, 2010

Someone Asked: Think of a Time When You Were Inspired

1997. I had just quit my job and was not having much luck finding a new one. My new roommate Michelle, just out of school, had landed an internship with Project Bread, an organization that helps fight hunger in Massachusetts. Specifically, she was working on their annual "Walk for Hunger." Michelle ended up becoming one of my best friends - I was a bridesmaid at her wedding - but back in 1997 we were just getting to know each other. We'd tell each other how our day went, watch tv together, borrow each others books, commiserate about the walk to the laundromat, stuff like that. 

About a month and a half into her internship, Shelley asked if I could do her a favor. She said that she knew I liked to sleep in in the mornings (completely true) but that she needed to recruit people to come to a breakfast presentation about the Walk. Knowing that I was living off my savings until I was gainfully employed again, she assured me that she didn't expect me to give anything and also that there would be free food.

I went to the presentation and sat at the interns table and listened to what the head honchos had to say; really listened. What I heard was very upsetting. Now, almost 15 years out, I don't remember the exact facts that were projected onto the screen. What I do remember is that on the verge of tears I told Shelley that I might not be able to give any money, but that didn't mean I couldn't raise it. I said I would raise $1,000. 

This was before Facebook, Twitter, and paypal. In fact, most of the adults I knew didn't even use that new electronic mail that was all the craze. It took several attempts, but I crafted what I have to say was a good schnorr letter and sent it to every single one of my relatives and everyone I knew who had a job. I threw house parties where Shelley would give the shpiel and I would ask for donations. I asked my neighbors. I asked my pharmacist. I asked the dry cleaner down the block. In one memorable instance I accidentally bumped into someone at the grocery store and told him what I was doing and how important it was and he gave me $5. I'm normally shy, but I felt angry and helpless. There were children who were hungry and malnourished. Children. This wasn't Ethiopia or Siberia or Honduras; it was Boston and right on the eve of the 21st century, too. There was no excuse for it.  

The day of the Walk was hot, in the 90s with some very unfriendly humidity. I rushed back from teaching religious school and went to turn in my money. With help from my grandparents and parents, siblings, friends and strangers, I had . . . failed to reach my goal. 

I had raised $768.50. It might not be four digits but it was a good haul from a jobless, unwealthy, shy, short 24 year old with glasses. I wished I'd gotten the whole thousand. But still, while more is better than some, some is definitely better than none. 

The truth is that $1,000 is an arbitrary number. The truth is that $250* more wouldn't have eradicated hunger in Massachusetts or even just in Boston. The truth is that I still give money to hunger organizations and so can you. Hunger has no deadline. 

*I know it's really $231.50, but that would have broken up the rhythm of the paragraph. Donate to your local food bank.

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