By Shari Foster and Sue Schumann, 99GetSmart
As the country entered what the mainstream media termed the “Polar Vortex,” we entered into an emotional vortex of concern and dread. While running our errands, struggling with the frigid temperatures it struck us: What would we do if we couldn’t? What if the oil tanks in our homes were empty, what if we didn’t have access to transportation or use of a personal vehicle to purchase groceries? Volunteering with the local Food Not Bombs LI Chapter, we knew first hand that poverty and hunger are ever present in Long Island. The stereotypical version of what Eastern Long Island is – wealth and luxury, beachfront properties with driveways filled with fast and fancy cars – is far from accurate. As temperatures dipped we grew more alarmed, knowing that many houseless were facing the worst weather elements and survival would come at a high price.
Inspired by the work of #OpSafeWinter-NYC, we embarked on our two-woman journey. Since we recognized our limited finances we quickly became both frugal and inventive. SouperSistas started serving soup on January 7, 2014. We went to local grocery stores and scoured the reduced-produce racks for fresh produce and scoped out sales to prepare tasty and healthy food. We were aware of small houseless communities that gather cans and bottles that are redeemed for the five-cent deposit money. Once redeemed, resources are collectively shared in an effort to provide and care for each other. Every Tuesday and Thursday we choose to share our hot soup and fresh bread with these communities. We also served soup in the local Department of Social Services (DSS) parking, lot where we witnessed people with garbage bags and shopping carts filled with their belongings seeking emergency shelter. Recently we were escorted off of DSS property by two police cars that informed us we were on “private property.” We explained that our taxes pay for the parking lot; we decided to leave to avoid arrest. We are trying to decipher the bureaucratic process so we may return to DSS, but in the interim we continue to serve in areas that welcome us.
Marginalized populations face a bureaucratic system that is very complex, one that imposes too many requirements for people to fulfill. In the beginning we were often met with distrust, a certain “what’s in it for you?” reluctance, and deservedly so. When the system fails, contempt and distrust prevail. Over time we can honestly say that the barriers we faced initially have slowly dissipated. The newly formed friendships have been the ultimate gift that we continue to receive. Our respect for the community is overwhelming; the strength, the commitment to each other serve as a constant reminder to us that we must take care of each other. We can’t rely on a compassionless government who creates victims and then blames them for their circumstances. It’s such a simple, basic principle, one that we teach our children at a very young age: the importance of sharing. Sadly, certain cities in the US have made it illegal to share one’s food with homeless people. What kind of lessons are we teaching our young?
We are pleased that others, both on Long Island and in other states, have joined with SouperSistas and share food as well.
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