This is part two of a series on the community food box.
This morning I was puttering around the store working on stuff and I noticed someone sitting on my doorstep. I didn’t know if they thought I wasn’t open or something so I stuck my head out to say “hey! We’re open if you want to come in.”
It was a middle aged woman with her elderly father. She said “oh, it’s fine, just waiting for the bus.” I invited them in to wait in the warmth and they tentatively accepted. I offered a cup of coffee and they both accepted. Got to talking, and she told me that her dad had just gotten out of the hospital and they went back to their house to find that it had been broken into by a gang AGAIN despite them turning off the utilities to try to make it less appealing. They have no heat, water, electricity, and the gang members had stolen most of their belongings, including the fridge (???).
She was tearing up as she told me the story. She didn’t ask for anything, and said "thank you for listening." I offered them a bag of food from my food box and she tentatively accepted. Then she asked me about the store and when I explained, she lit up for the first time and said “I crochet! Well, I used to anyway. I loved it!” Her face fell. I asked her what her favorite color is, and she told me red. I grabbed a crochet hook and a skein of red yarn, handed it to her, and she smiled and wouldn't stop thanking me.
That destroys me emotionally. It takes so little - a few protein bars, some water, a crochet hook, and a skein of red yarn - and it doesn’t feel like nearly enough. While food and water are basic necessities, creativity and art are also a basic necessity that is often overlooked. There’s so many people struggling and it breaks my heart.
I don't post these stories to get praise, I post these stories because we have to hear them and understand the enormity of need that is out there. It's a constant, daily struggle. This morning I heard the story from someone, but most mornings my reminder is checking the Community Food Box to see what I need to put out. It's always empty or close to it. It's a stark reminder.
We've distributed 356 food items, 34 pairs of shoes, and 100 other items (hats, scarves, pads/tampons, toothbrushes, etc) in 15 days (started tracking February 12, 2019). If you would like to contribute to the Community Food Box Project, bring in non-perishable goods to ReCraft for a 10% discount on your purchase (food goods and other items accepted, shoes are currently being provided by a non-profit and we don't have a need for that). Can't make it in? Please consider donating to our GoFundMe: https://tinyurl.com/y64fn7qg
I was feeling overwhelmed this morning as I worked on sorting out recent donations. There are boxes and bags upon bags of fabric in addition to a ton of other donations in my store right now. One box that I opened up had 15-20 large stamps in it, some with price tags still attached.
The calculator was running in my head. There are literally hundreds of dollars worth of supplies in this box, and a lot of them looking brand new.
My stomach started to feel a little upset. I couldn't help but feel like this was too much. It's too much that I was given these items. It's too much that these were all manufactured in the first place and then sold at such high prices. It reminded me that there is so much stuff everywhere and that people have mostly new items just lying around not being used. It's hard to wrap my head around the fact that there's an entire industry dedicated to storing stuff for people. It makes me feel sick when I am confronted with the sheer amount of things that have been made and exist and the problem of where to put it and what to do with it.
In the midst of sorting stamps, wrangling my piles of fabric, and feeling so bad about having so much, I saw a man pull up on a bicycle and stop by the food box. I hurried outside to let him know that I was just about to fill it up for the morning if he could wait a few minutes.
He said "oh, no worries! I brought a few items of clothing to put in and I'll swap you when you fill it up." I brought out the food, and he helped me arrange it nicely in the box. He pulled out a pair of jeans and work gloves to put in and took a bag of beef stew and a packet of ramen noodles.
We chatted about the box and the weather, and I commented that I needed to put a can opener out.
"I'm about to go to a place that might have some, and I'll bring my drill over and drill a hole so you can attach it," he said.
That instantly made me tear up, and I struggled to hide the emotions that I'd been feeling ever since he said he'd brought clothing to put in the box.
"Thank you, that would be amazing," I said, and he went on his way.
Here is a man who wanted for a basic necessity of life and yet he brought what he had and he offered what he could.
It made me feel better and it reminded me that yes, it is too much that all of this stuff exists - but at the same time, how amazing is it that as humans we have a drive to bring what we have and offer what we can even in the midst of wanting. That man could have just taken food, but instead he brought something he wasn't using. Those stamps could have ended up in the trash can. The fabric could have sat on someone's shelf for years until ended up in a landfill. But instead these items were brought to my store and offered freely to be purchased and used by someone else so they wouldn't be wasted.
It's easy to get overwhelmed, but I have to remind myself that people are trying hard to do the right thing. We all have waste and want, no matter our income level. The question is, what are you doing with your waste? I see people every day who bring me stuff that they're not using and I have to remember to focus on the positive aspect that people are trying to be responsible. That gives me hope and makes me feel so much better about the problem of stuff.
This is part one of a series on the Community Food Box.
It was New Year's Eve, 1999.
I was 9 years old, and my family was living in a small town near Bowling Green, Kentucky. My father was recently laid off from his job and was searching for work, since he and my mother had 6 of their 7 children living at home still (ages 1 to 13). Money was tight, but my mom was teaching music lessons and we were just barely scraping by.
We lived in a small rented house that had a fireplace in it, and despite having lived there for awhile, we'd never lit a fire. It was New Year's Eve, the dreaded y2k disaster was imminent. My oldest brother was home from college, so it was a full house.
Dad lit a fire in the fireplace and Mom was busy making snacks. He then pulled out a board game and called us kids to the kitchen to play.
For some reason, I was really grumpy. I don't even remember why, but I remember being really annoyed.
"I don't want to play!" I yelled, and settled down in front of the fire with my book.
"Come play, Bethany! We're all playing, it'll be fun." My oldest brother cajoled me, but I was resolute.
"No! I want to read!" They gave up trying to get me to come and play, and I opened my book and started to read. The clatter of dishes and murmur of conversation could be heard from the kitchen, but it was so nice just to be alone - a luxury when you're the middle child of seven living in a small house!
Twenty minutes or so went by. My book wasn't holding my attention and I looked up at the fire in the fireplace. The flames danced and the heat was nice, and my eyes traveled up the wall, tracing the design of the bricks.
I sat up. Something was wrong. There were curls of smoke snaking out from where the wall met the ceiling.
"Dad?" I called, worried.
No answer. I heard laughter from the kitchen as they were in the middle of a board game.
"Dad!" I yelled this time, more urgently.
"What is it?" He called back.
"There's something wrong with the fire, you need to come look."
"I'm sure it's fine, why don't you come play with us?" Dad called, unconcerned.
"Dad! You HAVE to come look. Something's wrong! Smoke is coming from the ceiling!" I knew it wasn't right, and I wasn't going to give up.
I heard a good natured grumble, and the sound of a chair scooting.
"It's probably just coming up from the fireplace..." he started to say as he walked into the room.
He stopped and the tone of his voice changed abruptly.
"Jacob," he said firmly, calling my brother, "get me a pot of water and call 911."
We all got out fine, and the firemen were quick to come (it was a lot of excitement for a small town). The fire chief told us that ten more minute and the whole place would have burnt down. As it was, the living room was completely destroyed, and there was extensive smoke damage in almost every room. The house was unlivable. It turned out that the fireplace had been built incorrectly and there were 2 x 4's touching the firebox inside the wall. It had most likely caught on fire before but gone out before doing damage until we happened to light a fire in the fireplace that night.
What I didn't know until I was older, was that my parents had about $16 in their bank account at the time due to my dad's unemployment. We were technically homeless. That night, we ended up at the local hotel, all nine of us huddled in one room. We ate moon pies and drank Mountain Dew, snacks that our neighbors had given us while we watched the firefighters work on our burning house from their living room. Despite my parents trying to make it seem like an adventure, there was an edge of nervousness and tension that I could feel even at the age of nine.
The hotel and the church helped us. They covered our room for a few nights. We stayed in my brother's college apartment for a few nights (what college kid hasn't had their entire family sleep on the floor of their tiny apartment because of a house fire? Normal college stuff, right?). Then we ended up getting a place to stay in section 8 housing. It was a tiny house with a cockroach problem. The four boys had to share a room, and I shared with my sister.
There's not a lot of opportunity in rural areas and small towns. My dad was struggling to find work, and seven children at home is a lot. We went to food pantries, used food stamps, and ate a lot of oatmeal, rice, and beans. We also ate a lot of venison, because it was free meat from hunting. We were food insecure, although we never went hungry thanks to the generosity of the food pantries, churches, government, and individuals.
We had always been poor, since my dad was a pastor and my mom a private lesson music teacher and they had seven children, but the fire plunged us into being desperately poor. My family was below the poverty line until I was around the age of 14, and there were times when food pantries were the only reason why we had food on the table.
There's a huge stigma attached to this. As I'm writing this story, I am feeling ashamed and worried and anxious. I know my parents won't care that I share this story because they are open about it, but it still feels like we will be judged. Being "poor" is looked down on. It's viewed as a failure, that you didn't "pull yourself up by your bootstraps." Sometimes you can't do that. Whether it's a stint of unemployment or untreated mental illness or a car accident, a lot of people are one "disaster" away from being homeless. When you're barely scraping by, it doesn't take much to suddenly not be scraping by any more. Even if you're working incredibly hard to take care of your family, like both of my parents were, you can still struggle to make ends meet and sometimes they just won't meet at all despite your best efforts.
We struggled a lot, and my family was lucky and privileged in a lot of ways. My parents are both white, college educated (my dad has a master's degree and my mom has a bachelor's), and had some family support with parents who were able to help at different times. We never went hungry. We were only "homeless" for a few days before we got into housing. And, my dad was able to find work in another state a year and half later and we were able to pick up and move to Indiana. Being privileged doesn't erase the struggle, but I do feel it's important to point this out, because there are so many people who aren't able to escape a cycle of poverty and it's not due to lack of trying or character.
This is my story of being food insecure. The feeling of shame and the stigma of being poor deeply sank in and I am trying to talk openly about my experiences and get rid of that. Because there's nothing to be ashamed of. No one should have to go to bed hungry and no one should feel bad for not being able to afford the basic necessities of life. I was lucky - I was taken care of as a child and I never once went to bed hungry. But I easily could have, except for all the people who cared and helped.
The Community Food Box Project feels like coming full circle for me. I grew up getting free food and now I can facilitate and help give that to others. Thank you for helping me do this.
If you would like to contribute to stocking the ReCraft Community Food Box, you can bring in non-perishable goods for a 10% discount on your purchase. Or, if you can't make it in, please consider donating a few dollars to the 2019 GoFundMe: https://tinyurl.com/y64fn7qg
I hate group projects.
Maybe it's because I was homeschooled until college, or because I'm the middle child of seven, or because I'm stubborn, hardheaded, and emphatically independent (sorry, Mom and Dad - you were/are amazing for raising seven of us). Whatever the reason, group projects are my nightmare. I struggle with giving up control and with being confrontational (go figure). I prefer to put my head down and work on my own.
As a small business owner, you have to juggle a lot of things and wear a lot of hats. I'm a terrible juggler with a head that is far too large for even one hat. I'm learning how to handle things, and it's going well, but I still have a long ways to go. I get so focused on one specific area that other areas start to slip. I have a single-track mind with a train barreling down it at full speed, which has its strengths but also a lot of weaknesses. Turns out, putting your head down and working until you collapse isn't the best.
Enter: an old friend, a close friend, and a stranger.
An Old Friend
My dear friend (and college roommate) Allison came to visit this week. We've known each other for a decade now (weeeird). She came up to help me with the store and I excitedly shared my goals for the week with her.
"I'd like to put away the Christmas stuff, sort and organize inventory, stock shelves, and change the window display."
"Great!" she said, and we both started boxing up the holiday inventory and decorations. After that was done, I started wandering through and looking at the new donations. Allison disappeared. I got distracted by the neat things I was finding, and customers started coming in.
A little while later, I found Allison. She had washed all the dishes, sorted out the recycling, changed the trash bag, and was knee deep in organizing my desk.
"I'm so sorry! I know you wanted to do inventory, but I just...this...needs to be done!" She apologized profusely to me.
I just had to laugh. I come by my personal areas of mess honestly. It's a trait that I have inherited from my father - the "desk pile" and the "sortof organized chaos" (it can also be a symptom of ADHD - people with ADHD struggle to keep their personal areas organized, like their desk/car/closet/purse).
Allison organized my desk for me. She filed papers, and made places for my office supplies. She brought me labeled cleaning supplies and used them to mop the floor and clean the tables. She found the areas that I felt overwhelmed by and the areas that were not on my radar, and she fixed them.
It. Was. AWESOME!
I didn't even know that I needed that kind of help. But Allison did, and I can't thank her enough.
A Close Friend
Last Saturday, I woke up at 2 am feeling horrible. I had abdominal pain and was having...bathroom problems. It was miserable, and my partner, Josh, kindly offered to cover for me in the morning. I was able to drag myself in around 11, but quickly found it was too much. I sent out the "bat signal" to my family and Julia, and she was quick to respond.
[Sidebar: at this point, if you don't know who Julia is, then you're not paying attention. Julia is my bandmate, my friend, and my professional colleague. She is a sustainable events consultant and one of my favorite humans. It's her fault that I opened this store and I can't say enough good things about her.]
"We have to drop off a kiddo at a birthday party, but we can be there at 1:30!"
She and her partner Mark appeared at a crisp 1:15 and sent me home to nap. I was able to sleep for three hours and started to feel human again.
I knew I needed help, and Julia and Mark helped me without question and I can't thank them enough. This wasn't the first time, and I'm sure it won't be the last and I am grateful.
One day as I was looking through my Instagram notifications, I noticed that an account had liked a lot of ReCraft's posts and had commented on a few with very positive and encouraging things. It made my day brighter. I started noticing that she was interacting with my account regularly and it always made me smile to see her comment or like something.
Then she came in to the store and I realized that this was someone local! We had a really nice chat, and Elle promised that she'd come back again soon. I woke up to a message in my Instagram account one morning.
"Hey there! I've come in a few times, and love seeing all of your wonderful posts! Your store inspires me so much. I saw the post you made a few days ago that said you were ill and didn't have the funds to pay employees. I've got a few days a week that I've been looking to put towards volunteering, and I was hoping you could use me in your store! I'm happy to do anything to help. I love how much your store reaches the community and I'd look forward to doing anything I could to help you! Please let me know if you could use a hand! Best, Elle"
My gut reaction was "that is so sweet, but I don't think so. I'm not a non-profit, it'd be taking advantage of people if I had volunteers."
Then I talked to Julia. She pointed out that I have a huge pile of unsorted donations and that Elle offered to help freely and that she wants to be a part of this.
I had to get over myself. The next day, I messaged her back and we set up a time for her to come help me. The first day that Elle was in the store, we sorted and organized a HUGE amount of stuff. The second time she came in to help me, we got to talking and I started complaining about my procrastination of making a website and how hard I was finding it to get started.
"Okay, Bethany. Next time I'm here, you're going to sit down and work on a website," Elle said to me, mock-seriously. "And I'm going to be here in two days, so you better prepare yourself!"
We laughed, but that joke scolding was just the motivation I needed. Thanks to Elle, I sat down and started working on this very website and it was done even before I saw her next!
I'm so grateful for Elle and for her encouragement and willingness to jump in and help.
Success Is A Group Project
Malcolm Gladwell said in his book, Outliers, that "success is a group project." I'm slowly learning that I can't do this by myself, and that I have to swallow my stubbornness and put away my independence. I have to ask for help and then let people actually help me. I also have to accept the help that is offered even when I don't think I need it, because I probably actually do need it and just don't see it.
I'm begrudgingly starting to like group projects.
Today was rent day. My landlord stopped by to pick up the check and I was waiting eagerly.
I don't usually like paying bills, but this month is different. This is the first time since opening that the store BROKE EVEN! Yes, I didn't have to dip into the rapidly depleting savings account that I built up from teaching and performing to use as my seed money.
In only the third month of being open, ReCraft made enough money to cover the bills. I am so grateful and so floored by this fact!
Owning a small business is tough and costs a lot of money in the first few years. I've spent thousands of dollars that I worked hard for to get this store up and running. It's intensely gratifying to see the response and to know that this weird vision that I had in my head is something that other people are excited about. Thank you for supporting my business with your donations, your dollars, your time, and your encouragement. I appreciate it so much.
Hoosiers care about the environment. We care about the impact of what we do. I'm really humbled and thankful to be able to provide a place where Hoosiers can show their care and passion for our environment and for crafting.
Stay warm and #craftresponsibly!