I struggle to even begin this blog post. I had such a humbling experience during Friday's distribution, it still brings tears to my eyes. It was powerful and moving - and the entire exchange lasted about a minute.
I've worked hard to ensure that as many community members as possible are included in Community Hunger Solutions' Friday food distribution of Farms to Families Boxes. The pantry is open after 5pm so that working class families have a greater chance at access. I commissioned Spanish and Hmong translations of our notices and worked hard to get the notice posted in as many places as possible where folks who speak one of those languages would see it, even reaching out to folks in Madison and La Crosse for advise on getting the notices out. I personally deliver (as a volunteer) a weekly order to a family who is unable to reach the distribution during our open hours. I know that I'm not reaching everyone, but I had no idea that a decision I made during this process would actively exclude a group from access.
When I created the notices, I asked that a phrase be included in the Spanish and Hmong translations asking pantry patrons to hold up their fingers to indicate the number of people for whom they are picking up food. I excluded this line from the English version of the notice and asked people posting the notice to do the same.
It's impossible to describe the following exchange in a way that can accurately communicate the depth so I won't even try. Somehow, even with my mask on, the woman in the passenger seat knew that I wanted to know how many people (or did she tell me know many families? - I honestly have no idea and I'm horrified at the thought that I gave her one box when she asked for three). I didn't even realize until she signed "thank you" in American Sign Language as they were driving off that the woman is deaf. At that moment, a fraction, I'm sure, of the weight carried by folks with invisible disabilities fell on my shoulders as I tried to imagine moving through today's world as a deaf person. How do you read lips when everyone is wearing a mask?
This experience was a powerful reminder that simply working for a non-profit is not enough. I've responded by updating our distribution notices, but the bigger take away here is how easy it is - even for a person who actively works to be conscious of unintentional biases - to make decisions that can fail to include a group of people from a needed resource while trying to increase access for the under-served in a community.
So, this week, I re-recommit to the Community Hunger Solutions mission - connecting locally produced surplus food with community members who lack access - and re-think the wording of our mission to make sure it reflects the understanding that biases exist and that we must be aware of and actively work to eliminate them.
In keeping with the current climate, I've put off pantry features to instead continue amplifying Melinated voices by sharing this organization: 40 Acres and a Mule Project
From the Campaign Page:
"The term “40 acres and a mule” was derived from Union General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No 15, issued on Jan. 16, 1865. The reparations movement, which continues to the current day, cites “40 acres and a mule” as the U.S. government's promise to make restitution to African Americans for enslavement. The significance of this promise to Black people was to present a conduit not only to be free, but also to own land and be integrated as a part of the fabric of the United States to achieve a more equal footing. Freedom, land ownership, and the means to prosper were seen as a significant pathway to empowerment by enabling African Americans to be a part of the economy, create businesses, and community.
During these troubled times, there is an immediate need to protect and ground ourselves in land that we can call our own. There exists a need to create a legacy for our future generations. The creation of a legacy is one of the most important opportunities I see in the "40 Acres & a Mule Project". It is a great chance to be able to control our narrative and provide educational opportunities to understand our story in food and farming techniques within the hospitality and food industry.
My vision is to have a sanctuary to hold the history, food, and stories of Black culture in food and farming. This land will be used to teach other how to farm, archive Black food ways and the importance of Black farms. The 40 acres of land will tell the story of how Blacks grew food through our ancestral ways into today.
Where will the campaign proceeds go?
Any contributions made to the "40 Acres & a Mule Project" beyond the needed funds to purchase the land, taxes, and tools for the farm will be made available to Black organizations that concentrate on preserving Black foodways and support Black farmers in purchasing their own land, buy the land they lease, and/or provide assistance to Black farmers for their mortgage payments." - Adrian Lipscombe, 40 Acres and a Mule Project Organizer
Have a wonderful week, everyone!