"" Writer's Wanderings: Port of Call - Boston, Mass.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Port of Call - Boston, Mass.

Before me was a huge X etched into a piece of granite and under it a sign that read “Welcome to our safe house.” I had just entered the Greater Boston Food Bank facility. Not your usual cruise ship excursion. Six of us, including one of the ship’s photographers from the Crystal Serenity, had boarded a large van at the dock and been transported about twenty minutes away to the huge warehouse that is this organization’s central distribution center. The center serves more than 394,000 people of Eastern Massachusetts.

But why was it called a “safe house”? I read the explanation beneath the X. As a young child, Kip Tiernan, the founder of the food bank had watched her grandmother during the Great Depression feed many homeless, helpless, and hungry men who came to her back door in New Haven, Connecticut. When seven-year-old Kip asked her grandmother how the men knew to come to the door, she told her to watch them as they left. Kip noticed the next man leave and pause a moment out on the sidewalk. He picked up a piece of charcoal and marked a large X, the hobo symbol for a safe house. It was her first experience of community organizing.

“It is no secret if you are scarred by struggle you can be transformed by hope,” Tiernan said, “And my grandmother gave them that.”

So we entered the “safe house” and were introduced to the volunteer organizer who gave us a general introduction to all of the organizations that the food bank serves. A large group of young people from a local business joined us as well as regular volunteers and we walked past huge shelves filled with non-perishable foods and entered a room full of boxes of potato chips.

The group organizer for that project set us up to take empty boxes, put four bags of chips in each, replace the top and stack the boxes to be set on shelves for distribution later. In about an hour, we had repacked all the chips and sent them on their way.

Next, after proving ourselves with the chips project, our leader had volunteers bring in frozen meats and poultry for us to sort and redistribute in boxes for distribution. That job took about an hour as well.

A little tired but feeling satisfied that we had contributed some help to their wonderful organization we returned to the orientation room and received a report that our total group of about 30 people had successfully sorted and repacked over 4,000 pounds of food making meals possible for more than 107 people.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a cruise line organize the opportunity for its guests to contribute in this sort of way to a charitable organization. We are often asked to give money but never our time. It was quite enjoyable and satisfying and I hope to see more of those opportunities in the future.

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