Today’s Music: Shawn Colvin – All Fall Down
So this weekend, my girl and I spent a day volunteering for Sandy recovery.
We showed up at a church at 520 Clinton Ave in Brooklyn to lend a hand.
It only looks like a warm cozy environment.
We get there and spend 15 minutes waiting to sign in. We write our names on a piece of tape and stick it to our jackets. (The registration is so that we can be on the mailing list. Glad we weren’t wasting time…)
We go into the pen where we are to wait for the volunteer orientation, and we have a chance to look over the place.
Towers of clothes, water, supplies, tools. Boxes of gear needed to clean up affected areas and give necessities to those that need them.
The entire operation was staffed by volunteers, and looked like a drunk walking – the rear foot constantly throwing the body off balance, the front foot catching it just in time, and repeat.
This is the inside of the church.
In fact, what I was most surprised by is how organized they were, and how people actually seemed to be in charge. Past volunteer experiences seemed to be more along the lines of “show up, and if you see something that needs to be done, do it”.
That seems to work well enough, since people that show up do want to help, and anyone that survives the turmoil for an hour or two becomes defacto leader until they move on and someone else takes over.
But it was nice to see an overall plan being implemented.
So after 5 minutes of sitting waiting for orientation, I learned two things:
– While I try to be open minded and not judge people on appearances, it’s very hard with hipsters.
– Especially when said hipster gets me to do something I’m not particularly keen on, and then offers encouragement wrapped around the word “jam” for the next 10 minutes.
Sitting in a chair with about 6 other people, groovy hipster comes over and shouts “Does anyone have cooking experience? We need help in the kitchen”.
Picture a simultaneously scowling and sneering El Guapo raising his hand.
While I cooked for a living for many years, it is not high on my list of fun things to do in a production environment. My girl and I had been hoping to lend a hand at the Rockaway Beach area. We surf there, and really like the neighborhood, so this would be a good “give back” kind of thing.
But this was also volunteering. And if they needed cooks…
So I said sure, gave a quick run down of my experience, and we follow the guy. Who must have seen my expression. Because i was subject to a litany of encouraging phrases along the lines of “It’ll be cool. You can make the cooking your Jam.” “Once you start, you know, you’ll be in your Jam.” “After your Jam is going, it’ll be great”.
Gee, and to think I’m not such a fan of people. Meh.
So my girl and I and one other go down to the kitchen. Sal is doing a bang up job as the chef, cranking out hundreds of meals from a small kitchen, with a 6 burner stove and 2 shelf oven to work with.
This isn’t gruel or slop. This is good food made almost entirely with donated ingredients.
But he’s weeded (ridiculously busy). And that small kitchen is hot.
Sal (after a moment of our recruiter trying to get his attention): EVERYONE WHO ISN’T COOKING SOMETHING RIGHT NOW, GET. OUT.”
Understood. He isn’t being a jerk. He’s trying to get a job done. Having been on both sides of that when cooking, I know where he’s coming from, and fade back into the small auditorium outside the kitchen, now a massive prep kitchen.
And start peeling a literal ton of vegetables.
– Try and donate potatoes larger than a fat thumb. Seriously. Almost more trouble than it’s worth to peel them.
– Try to donate carrots that aren’t flaccid. Also easier to peel.
– Donate peelers. Really. Having thirty isn’t helpful when twenty five of them are junk.
– Don’t slice your finger while opening pumpkins.
It was more embarrassing than painful…
– Listen to the conversations around you. At one point, Phil (a restaurateur from Connecticut) asked Heather (a Sandy regular from Vermont) about composting.
Heather launched into a detailed five minute explanataion of why they weren’t composting, how terrible it was that organic trash had been mixed with non-organic, the difficulties of finding compost pickup in Brooklyn, and how wonderful composting is.
Phil listened, and when Heather wound down, said “Oh, I don’t really care.” and went back to what he was doing.
Took me about a minute to stop laughing.
In the end, it really was a productive day. While it wasn’t my first choice of how to spend it, it was a useful necessary task. The people that will be getting the food will be very happy they did.
But next time, I think I’ll try to get in the group that’s clearing debris by the beach.
Oh, and the only sad part? After all that, I still didn’t win the lottery Saturday night.
(But in all seriousness, the organizers and volunteers all seemed to be working, and it was for a good cause for people that still do need the help.)