Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Plastic Bag in Context

Once a month, my husband organizes a dinner for about 50 people at a homeless shelter. He recruits the people who contribute and cook the food. He nudges them when they forget. He cooks some of the dishes himself. He arrives at the church about an hour before the meal to supervise the volunteers who plate and serve the food to the guests. Although I usually help from behind the scenes (shopping for food; preparing), I had never before gone with him to the church during the actual preparation and serving--not until last Thursday night. I'd never gone because mainly it was his project, and evenings are my time for writing. But this past Thursday, we had so many things to bring (mistakes in the schedule, one family who dropped out a the last moment, one who dropped their contribution at our house rather than the church) that I wanted to go with him and help.
 There are many things to say about this experience, but my focus in this post is the plastic bag. And here is the story: Among the people at the church was an older, somewhat street-wizened man who came into the kitchen as we were preparing and told us not to throw out an food. If there were any leftovers, he said, he would make sure that some hungry person got them to eat. I'm not sure what his official capacity was with the shelter, or even if he had one, but of course, we would not want any food to go to waste.
     As we were cooking and arranging and cleaning and so forth, I noticed that he was organizing plastic bags--smoothing them, grouping them, arraying them on one of the long tables in clusters (bags within bags). My husband and I had brought some of our items in a plastic bag, and when we came into the kitchen and unpacked, I had stuffed the bag in my back pocket. When I saw that he seemed to want/need bags, I asked if he wanted mine.
     "I think I have enough now," he said. "But over there, in the lower cupboard, is where they store the bags, so you can put yours there if you don't need it and it's in good shape."
     "I'll do that," I said, and I pulled it out to look at it, but I saw that it had a small tear in it--maybe a half-inch long. "I guess this isn't so good after all," I said, showing him the tear.
     He laughed. "That's a lot better than a lot of the ones I've seen."
     So I put it in the cupboard. I guess if a plastic bag is your suitcase, and you really need a suitcase, a small tear doesn't amount to much.


Jim Poznak said...

Just goes to show, one person's trash is another's treasure.

Susan Messer said...

Agreed, dear.