I feel ambivalent about the idea of wearing a safety pin in the aftermath of the election. I understand there are situations where it might be helpful, but mostly it seems like a token feel-good thing. However, I couldn’t resist taking a photo when a teenager pointed out the safety pin holding together the fabric side of the cereal rack, where I was stationed as I volunteered in the food pantry.
Because this is what it means, when I stand by that safety pin in the food pantry:
Even though I am white and you are black/Asian/Hispanic/multi-racial, I care about you. If you want to discuss the weather here compared to the country you came from, or talk about how people from your culture prepare a certain type of food, I’m happy to chat. Otherwise, the only aspect of your color I’ll comment on is if you’ve dyed your hair since the last time I saw you. Because who doesn’t appreciate hearing, “Hey, you did something different with your hair – it looks good!”
Even though I am able-bodied and you use a cane/walker/wheelchair, I care about you. When I help everyone heave their grocery carts over the wooden threshold in the doorway to the next room, I will be extra-gentle with you because I know you’re leaning on that cart for balance. And if you have reusable shopping bags, I can tuck their handles into the sides of the cart, so the bags stay open and you can drop food in one-handed.
Even though I speak fluent English and you speak Spanish/Portuguese/French/Arabic/Chinese, I care about you. When my limited Spanish means I explain the difference between instant oatmeal and slow-cook oats by describing it as “rapido” versus “no rapido” because I can’t remember the word for “slow,” we can both laugh about it. And you will know what type of oats you’re picking.
Even though I am Christian and you are Muslim/Jewish/atheist/pagan, I care about you. When you show up looking nervously out from your hijab, unsure of your welcome after some particularly bad news week, I will let you know how impressed I am by your sewing skills at converting a secondhand sweater into part of an abaya. I will be aware of which major holidays are coming up in each of the major religions, especially since so many of them involve celebrating with special meals and foods, and we can talk about what you’re planning to cook to celebrate. Although I still haven’t found any religious traditions which would involve the jumbo-sized can of clam juice that’s been sitting on the miscellaneous rack for weeks.
And even though I am tired from a long day at work and a couple hours in the pantry, and you are one of the last people through, and your child is an undisciplined terror who is about to knock over the entire cereal rack, I care about you. And I will let you move on to the next room as quickly as possible, even if it means you’re kind of blocking the doorway, so your son can feel like he’s nearing the end. Or at least he’ll have room to spin around in circles without bumping into too many people. Because even the best-behaved little kid would get very restless, standing in an hour-long line at dinnertime, to get groceries.
Because in an ideal world, this is not how anyone should have to get their food.
But because we’re not in that ideal world, I’ll be doling out the cereal, and checking sugar content for diabetics who can’t afford reading glasses, and helping carts over the threshold.
All while standing by that safety pin.