The Kinky Green


Sorting Zucchini

Posted in The Social,The Spiritual by Joy on July 20, 2009
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When we arrive that morning in the rain, they ask us to sort a pallet of zucchini. “Some of it may need to be tossed. If you wouldn’t have it in your refrigerator at home, trash it.”

And trash we do.

In the end, we are sorting through a box of 40 or 50 zucchini to salvage 10 or fewer. The donated pallet of vegetables has gotten wet and been left to mold and rot in the heat of the stock room for who knows how many days.

Some of the more vicious bad zucchini explode as we pluck them up with our gloved hands, raining putrid zucchini juice on our arms and clothes, and down to the concrete floor. The meeker of the unwanted produce tends to bend into unnatural shapes or break off in particularly gooey messes during the process.

When they call us together to start the distribution, I gladly volunteer to work the front lines. Get out of the back. Away from that rotten zucchini and the foul taste it’s leaving in my mouth.

They have a system here.

Three volunteers rotate through the makeshift store, accompanying each customer to the shelves of miscellaneous items after another volunteer has returned to the post by the door. “Two items from this shelf. Solamente dos.”

From there, it’s on to one box of cereal and varying amounts of produce. Next, one pastry and a bag or two of canned goods, depending on the size of the family. Milk and eggs. “Hot dogs or chicken?”

The customers stand patiently in line after handing over their information, being assigned a number, taking all the bread they want.

Today, we serve 123. Ten more get numbers but don’t make it to and through the store.

Only twice do I notice abuse of the system. The man comes first, and he’s all milk and honey. Sweet-talking his way to the front of the line with the blessings of the woman in charge. “This gentleman needs to be served next because he can’t stand long.” And he walks with his cane right into my charge.

I help him find the can of mushrooms he seeks on the miscellaneous shelf. He confirms my identification of unidentified produce.

In truth, I favor the man. But the sight of the woman who lost her place to him nags me. My broken Spanish is so poor I don’t even try to explain. I just walk away with the man, leaving her there, purple ticket in hand.

In the end, there is plenty to go around. The woman’s lost nothing to the old man with the cane, but I feel bad for doing what I’ve been told. I feel the man has no more trouble standing with his cane than many of the elderly people we’ve seen already. Than many of the elderly people still waiting patiently for their respective turns.

The woman in the silken head wrap shows up just as Mr. Cane is leaving. She’s knocking on the glass of the exit door, and I smell trouble. As Mr. Cane makes his way out, she bee-lines inside and asks me for white bread. “I used to work here,” she says. “It’s in the back cooler. Can you check?”

I tell her I’ll find out and make my way toward the coordinator. “She’ll have to take what’s already in the front,” the coordinator begins.

Before she can finish the sentence, the lady and her head wrap are upon us. “I work here,” her story changes. “I’ll just go look myself.”

The coordinator’s merely a volunteer. She shows up once a month with our group. How is she to know? She nods and gets back to her task, but I know it’s best I don’t continue in the front lines.

By the end of the day, the woman in the head wrap will come through the store three different times, claiming to have forgotten this or to have missed that. Another volunteer will see her leaving in a nicer car than many of us are driving, back seat completely full of the food she’s laid claim to in the course of her shady dealings.

Watching her abuse the system that’s there to help people who really need it, thinking about the people she’s likely depriving with her greedy actions, the whole thing leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

I take my opportunity for escape. When you get a chance, can you relieve me up there? I ask the coordinator.

They’ve been rotating people in and out of the front all day, I justify to myself. There’s nothing wrong with working in the stock room. I’ll even sort zucchini.

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