When I was little my family didn't have much money. We regularly received food from the Christian Community Action food bank, WHEAT, our church and caring friends. We were very familiar with food bank cuisine. My brothers and I would get home with the bags and tear into them looking for the good stuff…wading past the tuna, peanut butter, oatmeal, soups and canned vegetables hoping for some cookies or a cereal with marshmallows in it or some sweet treat. While nutritious, I can't say that most of the contents were particularly appealing to us kids. Occasionally we would get bagels in our bag. If we were really lucky, we'd get the cinnamon raisin ones.
Sometimes when we were growing up we had a car and sometimes we didn't. During one period when we had a car and went to CCA to get our monthly allotment, they needed someone to pick up a donation for the food pantry and my mom said she would go. Turned out the pick up was at the Lenders Bagel Bakery! Anyone who drove past the bakery on the Boston Post Road in West Haven in the 80's is very familiar with the wonderful aroma that greeted you as you passed the block the factory was located on. I swallowed as much of that tasty air as possible as we turned into the parking lot. We went inside. I cannot remember if it was a woman or a man who greeted us and gave us our precious cargo, but I do remember that they gave me a warm cinnamon-raisin bagel that I got to eat in the car on the way back to CCA. We made several trips to Lenders over the next few months to do the "bread" run. Each time I squiggled in the back seat, filled with anticipation at the prospect of getting a warm raisin bagel. I was very hard for me to stand patiently by my mother while she attended to the real purpose for us being there. Most times I was given a warm bagel. One time they gave me a mini-bagel face necklace; it was tough to hide my disappointment. The necklace was nice, but not the treasure I was hoping for.
Growing up, a bagel was a bagel. It was something yummier to eat than plain bread. It was a treat. As I got older I came to realize that the bagel, and all the similar acts of kindness I had witnessed while growing up were tangible proof that people cared about me. These things made me know that I was part of more than just our family. I was a part of a community. A community that saw to it that I had a coat to wear in the winter, a camp to go to in the summer and a turkey to eat at Thanksgiving.
So now, whenever someone asks me to do something, I can't say no. I hem and haw. I make excuses but in the end my response is always yes. I often kick myself afterwards knowing all the demands I already have on my time. Then I go to the classroom for Read Aloud Day, and I see the rowdy kindergarteners become silent as I read my story and I know why I said yes. I go the Girl Scout meeting (and I don't even have a Girl Scout!) and do a craft project with them and they gather around me squashing me with their hugs and I know why I said yes. I take an elderly person to pick up her prescription and she tells me she doesn't know what she would do without me and I know why I said yes.
I have witnessed the power of a bagel to fill a hungry belly and an empty heart. I am the product of a caring community. I am a member of a caring community. I care. That's why I volunteer.
-A Community Volunteer
We Have Moved.
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August 26, 2007
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