Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Value of a Bagel

by Leah Haykin (Rep)

   I have now been a volunteer with FRN at Brown for about two months. In that short amount of time, my weekly shifts have taught me the true value of a single bagel.
   When I first got my shift with FRN, I was somewhat disappointed. Sunday nights? That is prime homework time! And picking up from Poppy’s in the Nelson Fitness Center? That’s across campus! However, as I walked to my first shift, I grew excited for the large bags and boxes filled with food that I would surely find waiting for me, to ultimately be delivered to those suffering from food insecurity in Providence.
    I was certainly not expecting what happened when I finally arrived at Poppy’s. I opened the sliding doors of the eatery wearing my telling FRN pin. The BuDS worker working the closing shift looked at me, deadpan, and gestured toward the empty shelves beside him. “There’s nothing left today,” he said. And so I began my oh-so-long walk back home, clearly defeated by my high expectations of saving the world with bagels and croissants.
     The following months proved more of the same. On the luckiest of days, I would pick up three pounds of baked goods. More often than not, however, I would pick up about a pound of baked goods—equivalent to say, three bagels.
     Three bagels. Is that really worth it? Is it really worth the half hour of walking, not to mention lost study time? At the beginning, my answer to both of these questions was tending towards “no.”
      My parents very much believed in the importance of instilling a sense of social justice in my sister and me. As such, they took us to volunteer at a homeless shelter in downtown Portland, Oregon, every week. One memory in particular stands out.
      One night, after volunteering at the shelter, my sister and I stood outside waiting for my father to pick us up. As we waited a man, clearly homeless, began to talk with us. Without the structure of the shelter I was afraid at first. “Please,” he begged, “please can you ask them to bring me food? Please?” By “them,” he meant the shelter. The shelter was closed; there was nothing that we could do. But as we waited, we continued to talk. His name was Dan. He was an injured Vietnam veteran with psychological issues; he was convinced that he was an astronaut, among other things. He had waited in line for three days in a row hoping to get into the shelter without success. The only thing he had to eat in those three days was a doughnut from Voodoo Donuts, a Portland landmark.
       As the weeks and months progressed and I truly began to question whether my weekly excursions to Poppy’s were worth it, I began to think about Dan, and the value of something as seemingly small as a single donut or a single bagel. Spending a half hour to retrieve three bagels may seem cumbersome to someone like me—middle class, Ivy League-educated, relatively privileged me. But to those who are not so lucky, a single bagel could mean so, so much more. Since having this realization, weekly trips to Poppy’s don’t feel so long, and small deliveries feel all the more important.
        And that is how FRN taught me the value of a single bagel.

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