Too much abundance?

On the Fourth of July, I helped with food distribution at White Pony Express (WPE), the food-rescue-and-delivery organization that I volunteer with in Contra Costa County, California, across the bay from San Francisco.  Because we had a lot of leftover bread, I filled my own car with bread, some pastries, a crate of yogurt and two small crates of fruit, and went to see if I could distribute it among the men waiting for day labour jobs near Home Depot and then at the tent encampments of the homeless in Berkeley, California. This wasn’t an official White Pony Express run, but because WPE wasn’t able to deliver this food, it would’ve ended up in the dumpster, so everyone was happy to find a use for it.

There were day labourers waiting for work in small groups all around Home Depot, and I don’t really have words to describe their gratitude, their mild manners or their sincere dedication to life and family. I’d describe sharing with them as a sacred experience.

After offering food to them, I drove to Berkeley, only to find that the tent villages I’d seen along the frontage roads near I-80 and under the overpasses were all gone. I imagine that the police had dismantled them since I’d last passed by.

Tent communities in Berkeley, California - The "undocumented" are my heroes

I did find some small groups of men waiting for day labour jobs, where I’ve often seen them, near the railroad tracks adjacent to the Fourth Street shopping area. These men were equally grateful and gracious … so much so that I asked one gentleman if I might take his photo, just so that you folks would be able to see what beautiful beings these people are! Upon hearing me ask, though, he became very nervous, and I immediately apologized. I should’ve known that he’d fear any public exposure, even that of the anonymous kind, because of America’s current immigration policies.

An additional trip to Richmond

I asked some of these men where I might find more recipients, and one said, “Home Depot up in Richmond,” so I drove another few miles and did succeed in giving away more food.

Several men took extra yogurt and fruit for their families, but I’d imagine that, waiting for work as they were, they didn’t want to be burdened with huge bags of extra food. I ended up returning a lot of the bread to WPE.

Next time, I’ll endeavour either to learn where the homeless encampments have moved, or bring along less bread and more of the other foods, if I can get them. (Bread is the commodity that we have, by far, the largest surplus of almost daily now, after delivering several thousand pounds of food to our “official” recipients: food pantries, shelters and such places.)

The reaffirmation of goodness

The main takeaway from my experience is simply a reaffirmation of my sense of the deep dignity, diligence, gentleness and serious purpose of the people who are often denigrated as “illegal immigrants.”

It’s not lost on me that many of these people risked their lives crossing blazing deserts, where, of course, some of their compatriots perished. And yet, some of my countrymen and women speak of them as though they’re bad people. My impression is that they’re exceptionally good people! They personify, to me, the immortal words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

It’s a terrible irony that these people, who work so hard and make such an effort to be responsible to their families, in spite of such hardship, are singled out for derision. Yet, they seem to bear this insult, too, with incredible patience and fortitude.

I’m happy that I got to meet more of them yesterday. It was my experience of what the Fourth of July and America are—or at least should be—about, for this year!

Update on WPE

Since my article on the White Pony Express food rescue program, published in The Mindful Word about two years ago, the operation has continued its steady growth.

In April of 2016, WPE moved to a larger distribution centre. Currently, an average of 4,000 pounds of food per day is donated by establishments such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and the Nob Hill supermarket chain. WPE then sorts and delivers the food to approximately 45 homeless shelters, food pantries and other programs. Some 200 people, nearly all of them volunteers, continue to be involved in food pickup and distribution.

White Pony Express bread and food ready to go - The "undocumented" are my heroes

Bread, pastry and fruit ready to be distributed by WPE

WPE maintains a fleet of vehicles that includes six refrigerated trucks and vans. In addition to food rescue and delivery, the organization also sponsors the Free General Store, which provides good clothing, especially clothing suitable for such occasions as job interviews, at no cost; and the White Pony Inn, which specializes in preventive services to those at risk of becoming homeless.

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image 1: Creative Commons; image 2: Max Reif; image 3: The E’ville Eye LLC (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND); images 4-5: Max Reif