MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, MD. It was a horrendous day. We in the Mid Atlantic US get these days in early winter, 45 degrees with a fine rain. We were receiving donated computer equipment at a Mitzvah. I had recently learned that it translated to something close to “good deeds event”.
It was early on a Sunday morning.
Three of us, two males and one female were standing at the edge of a parking lot in front of a beautiful temple accepting the infrequent donations. The three of us volunteer at a Non-Profit, refurbishing computers for people on assistance in a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC.
A temple of means
The other male, Mike, had shown us the place and had commented somewhat embarrassed that he didn’t like it because it was too ostentatious.
With my limited knowledge of the Jewish religion, I had to agree with him, as Synagogues are usually plain square buildings. Two police cruisers were conspicuously parked at the two entrances to the building.
My companions had taken refuge in their vehicles that were parked nearby, one of them supporting a banner indicating our role in the event. I was properly dressed and toasty in my waterproof parka, enjoying the quiet, and people-watching. All types of people passed by, many, family groups.
Even a very buff thirty-something wearing shorts and a t-shirt rushed by taking the steps two at a time. The parking lot was full of mostly new and expensive sedans and SUVs.
The woman working with us opened the window in her SUV and asked me if I wanted to join her, out of the rain. After some coaxing, as I was really enjoying being alone, I agreed. She got out of the vehicle and started moving stuff from the passenger seat to the back. Then she expectantly stood by the door and motioned me to enter.
The interior of the car showed heavy use, but it was clean and smelled fine. After a few seconds, I remarked,
“Well, I have seen you at the shop wearing a private guards uniform, how do you like it?”
“Is OK, I work the midnight to eight shift and then come to the shop to volunteer and serve my internship. I just got out of my shift before we met here.”
“Wow, you must be tired. I hope you will have a chance to rest after this.”
Her melanin-rich, smooth chiseled face showed surprised and then she answered,
“Yea, I will go take a shower and drive to my work. I will try to catch some sleep in the parking lot before I come on.”
I was confused, these actions didn’t quite match. It was very difficult to determine the age of the woman, as it is common with dark people. Why would she take a shower and then go to sleep in her car at a parking lot? So, I asked her,
“Do you live around here?’
She thought for a moment and then answered,
“I stay with my mother who lives in Southern Maryland, but it is too far to drive every day, so I stay around here until Thursday morning, drive there, do what I have to do, including school work, and come back on Saturday before my shift.”
“So, where do you shower?”
“I use a fitness center.”
“So, after showering you drive to your job and sleep in the parking lot, isn’t that dangerous?”
“Not with the help of God. I haven’t had any problems”.
As I tried to digest the information, a European SUV stopped by our vehicles, a woman got out and opened the rear hatch signaling an imminent donation. We got out to collect the expected old computer and/or printer. Along with two old dusty printers she had several cloth bags full of clothing in the back of her vehicle. After I collected the printers, we asked the SUV woman whether she wanted a receipt. She said no.
The woman that was helping us approached and asked the lady that was donating whether she was going to give away the clothing. She said yes. Then she asked,
“Would you mind giving it to me? I have four grandchildren and I fix things and send them to them in Florida”.
The other woman froze, it was evident that she didn’t expect the question and couldn’t come up with an answer. She recovered and mumbled,
“Sorry, this for the Mitzvah”.
We all felt uncomfortable, and nothing else was said. Even after the donating lady drove off.
This is our current reality. There are millions of people in our country that do not have a place to live or that live mostly in their vehicles. They don’t have health insurance because their jobs don’t warrant it. The situation is so dire that they are no longer embarrassed to ask for help. How should we respond?
We, that have all the essentials and more, do not see these people. They live lives of “quiet desperation”.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a very lucky immigrant that has been here since 1965 and some times doesn’t recognize his adopted country. He is in Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook (Mario Salazar).