Posts Tagged ‘food bank’

Let Them Eat Spaghetti

I brought some day-old bread to an empty food bank the other day. The woman in charge told me about the generational poverty so prevelent in this, the poorest county of Ohio. I watched as a kid played with a  beat-up Tonka truck that was missing a tire at the feet of two tired looking women.

 “These people have not only given up on a job, they’ve given up on everything… the kids suffer the most.”

On the way back to my pizzeria, I listened to two pundits talk about the balance of wealth in the United States and felt my blood pressure rising. It remided my about a story I had just read from La Bonne Table, written by Ludwig Bemelmans in 1953.

The Spaghetti Train

I came into the dining car late. Patrizzi was finished with his breakfast- that is, with the orange juice, toast, coffee and egg part of it. The other passengers had left. The crew seated at the end of the car had faces like wax figures in the bright sunlight.

Patrizzi lifted his nose and sniffed. “Spaghetti,” he said. “Real Spaghetti?”

“Yes, said the steward, “we are eating now. Back there the cooks are from Napoli.”

“I’d very much like some of your spaghetti,” said Patrizzi. “Enough for me and my friend here.”

The steward said the cooks would be delighted.

The spaghetti came, cooked with butter and garlic and with a handful of chopped parsley strewn over it.

“Some people condemn the Italian kitchen,” said Patrizzi, “and also the French. They say they can’t eat the food on account of the garlic. Now there is no good cooking except with garlic-but in the hands of a bad cook it is poisonous. It must be used with extrreme care. The most reckless are the English; once they take to cooking with garlic they use it so freely it’s impossible even for an Italian to eat it. For example, Somerset Maugham once served truffles wrapped in bacon, a very good dish. The truffles profit by the flavor of the bacon, the bacon is enhanced by the truffles, and I like it. But at the luncheon I bit into a truffle and inside wis a whole clove of garlic. Both the truffle and bacon were ruined. And the garlic, which, incidentally, was also in the chicken we were served and on the toast that came with the cheese and in the salad- it was so predominant that the whole meal was ruined. Now take this spaghetti-simple, ultra-simple- but with a bouquet like the finest wine.”

The train had stopped at a small station to wait for a clear track. Outside the window were cars of a freight train. The boxcar doors were open, and inside were benches on which sat people most of whom had no shoes and all of whose eyes were fixed on the spaghetti and the bottle of wine on our table. I said that it seemed to me that in Italy there was a belief that God had made some people rich and others poor, and that the tragedy was that not only the rich but the poor also believed it, and consequently it would never change.

Patrizzi answered, “And don’t you think this is as it should be and a very good arrangement? Have you ever seen an Italian peasant envious of those who have fine cares, or horses, or jewels? No, they admire those things, knowing they can never have them for themselves. They adopt a detachment, like people who go to the theater, or to an art gallery to admire priceless paintings. They are glad to know that these things exist, but they also know they never can own them. Just from looking at these things they devrive a pleasure that possession never brings, because possession means worry.” He snapped his finger. “More,” he shouted back to the steward.


“Robin Hood” of Athens County Retires

“A person who has food has many problems. A person who has no food has only one problem.” Chinese Proverb

As I see the devastation and ruined lives in Haiti, I go online to give a donation at Clinton Bush Haiti Relief. Then I stumble across a clip of Rush Limbaugh trying to persuade individuals not to donate.

Being of independent and of fairly sound mind (despite the 70’s), I thought: Would Rush still have this opinion if his life had been constantly filled with hunger and despair?  To grow up in, let’s say, Athens County, Ohio where he was one of many kids who had to wait in line at the food pantry with his parents  just to get something to eat? Would his cynicism and sarcasm about avoidable slow death be muted? Would he be motivated to get off of his ass and do something for his community? Who knows.

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Community Food Initiatives’ Donation Station sign. Keith Peterson weighing food donations from the market.

This got me thinking about Keith Peterson, a man I met years ago who has recently just retired. In 2007, he decided to do something about the lack of quality foods available to the poor. He started delivering fresh local produce to food pantries, food banks, shelters, battered womans’ centers, and just about anyone who needed it. In the 2 years that followed, Keith delivered over 80,000 pounds of fresh food to people in this area. Last year he delivered loads of my fresh baked, high protein Barbari bread to poor community centers and food pantries every Tuesday.

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Daniel Martino weighing corn. Keith’s small car stuffed with summertime produce. Delivery to the Food Pantry.

Keith hooked up with Rhonda Clark, head of the  Community Food Initiatives non-profit, which coordinated the support needed for him to, quite literally, be the vehicle that enabled the needy to get fresh, nutritious, fruits, vegetables, baked goods and meats to sustain life.

I went Keith to food pantries many times. Here was a guy who, instead of flapping his gums like Rush, coerced, begged, pleaded and wheeled and dealed to get people to give food, or money to buy food. He then bought more food and transported it to the people who need food most: the elderly, the sick and the children. He never espoused any political affiliation or philosophy (except being a huge AC/DC fan) and had a fair amount of contempt for people trying to manipulate the needy for religious, political (or in Rush’s case) rating reasons. That’s why I like him.. Oh, he is funny as hell also.

Keith’s modus operandi was to stand all day at the Athens Farmers Market with his right hand man, Daniel Martino (employed through VISTA), and ask people to donate any item from the farmers, which he would then take to 13 different organizations to feed the needy.

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Produce given to CFI by the farmers and customers of the Athens Farmers Market.

At the end of the market, tgenerous farmers drop off huge amounts of produce, meats and foodstuffs to Keith. The CFI team, including Keith’s wife Ellen, spends the rest of the day weighing, cataloging and bagging up all the foods to meet the greatest food needs of this, the poorest county in Ohio.

Kieth also was a regular at the Chesterhill Produce Auction, now run by Rural Action and Tom Redfern and Bob Fedeski. Here he bid on items with donated monies. While there, he’d also guilt me  (just by staring) into giving him some of my  Amish vegetables that I so proudly outbid all comers for.

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Just one load of food brought to the Kilvert Community Center looks massive. Amish vegetables at auction.

I gotta tell you, this dude is a tough bidder. He can outbid me at the last minute after distractingme with “Hey John, isn’t that a flat tire on your vehicle?” All of a sudden, that good-looking basket of red and yellow beets are in his hands and he’s laughing like the Joker of Batman fame.

I will miss Keith and the worthwhile work he does. Whoever fills his shoes will have alot to cover to reach the intensity and productivity he showed helping out the families of Appalachia. Here is Keith in typical Peterson mode: downplaying what he has done.

Thanks to Keith, Community Food Initiatives and the Farmers of Athens County. More than one kid in Athens County benefitted from Keith’s efforts and was able to concentrate better at school instead of worrying about an empty stomach. Maybe that kid, because of the nutritious food he or she was able to eat, broke the chain of generational poverty and moved on to college.

And just maybe, that kid will go on to become a radio announcer, or the President of the United States, or even better yet, a crazy pizza guy.