Wade’s World

via Daily Prompt: Reprieve

DSC_0854

Wade Michaels sorts produce at the Madison, CT., Food Pantry.

Wade Michaels is a reprieve from the bad stuff: a glimpse of hope in a sea of negativity.

I stumbled upon Wade while researching a project about food waste. It’s funny how one story leads to the next. Someone at the Connecticut Food Bank told me about Wade. So on a sunny May day, we met outside the Guilford, CT., Big Y.

Wade, produce/floral manager, battled anxiety and depression after his father suddenly died of a heart attack 10 years ago. (This is not the uplifting part.) He tried antidepressants and therapy, but didn’t feel better until he began helping others.

“I was the saddest guy in the room,” Wade, 40, recalls. “I was so wrapped up in my own stuff. Then one day I realized I had to change. I started reading Tony Robbins, who says the way to end suffering is helping people. We’re not here to take, we’re here to give.”

Wade began volunteering at the Madison Community Service Food Pantry, and his spirits began to lift. When the Connecticut Food Bank asked him if Big Y would donate surplus produce last year, Wade jumped.

Today, he rescues fresh produce from Big Ys in Guilford, Old Saybrook and Lyme, and delivers them to Shoreline food banks. Every Wednesday, he spends his lunch hour at the Madison pantry stocking shelves and handing out produce.

“It’s one of the best things I do all week,” Wade says. “I’m just getting started. Once you start helping people, you look for ways to do more.”

Though smaller than many Big Ys in the state, the Guilford store donates the most produce to the Connecticut Food Bank. Wade says he’s supported by his Springfield, MA.,-based company, which gives him a two-hour lunch break Wednesdays. But he rescues most food in his spare time.

In the past year, he’s diverted 25,000 pounds of surplus produce to food pantries. Before the rescue program began, local food banks bought fresh produce for their shelves.

“He’s awesome,” said one Connecticut Food Bank executive. “The average age of our volunteers is 70 and no one was available to rescue food from the Old Saybrook and Lyme stores. Wade took it upon himself to get produce from those stores. When presented with a problem, Wade finds ways to fix it.”

When the Lyme Food Pantry needed shopping carts, Wade got them donated. He believes nothing’s impossible if you’re willing to tackle a problem.

Madison Community Services Food Pantry leaders are overwhelmed by Wade’s volunteerism, saying they’ve never met anyone like him.

“He’s always looking out for other people,” says Vincent Diglio, who directs the pantry with his wife Margaret and Mary Hake. “Anything he can do for other people in need, he does. It’s really quite extraordinary.”

The other day, a customer asked for fresh fruit. Wade apologized that he was nearly out.  He offered apples, but the man shook his head. “I was hoping for some strawberries, maybe a melon,” he said. Wade assured him he’d put some aside for him next week.

Wade, who is married and lives in Old Saybrook, CT., is happy, and grateful that his dark days are behind him.

“My father had to pass away and I had to go through that period to change,” Wade says.

The Connecticut Food Bank always needs volunteers. To learn more, visit http://www.ctfoodbank.org.

IMG_1371

Fresh carrots from Big Y.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace

DSC_0962

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/adrift/”>Adrift</a&gt;

We all feel adrift sometimes. Fortunately, grace keeps us anchored. Captured this going home from Cape Cod Sunday night after a rare weekend away from my kids. Should’ve known better than to leave two teens (well, one is a rising  college sophomore) alone for 30 hours. All I asked was that they clean the house. I guess we have different definitions of clean.

 

 

Busting Stones

Notorious

IMG_1349

With the tomahawk and mallet, I didn’t know what’s behind the door.

I’m cruising down Route 1 and spot it.

The East Haven Stoners Club.

Hmmm. I pull a U-turn and park to take a closer look. Yes, Stoners Club it is. The tiny sign over the boarded up front door is foreboding, but a nattily-dressed gent about 80 is leaving and comments on the sparkling New England day. I’m confused. I assumed this was a place where notorious dudes get high.

He won’t tell me what it is, so I ring the doorbell. A somewhat startled long-haired man who may or may not ride a motorcycle answers the door. Here’s the lowdown: it’s a club of about 150 members who socialize and raise money various causes. Like a ritzy country club, you can only get in if a member sponsors you.

The name? One jokester said it was because of all the nearby quarries, but fessed up: “It means don’t break stones,” he said.

I can’t argue with that.

Daily Devotion

Heritage
DSC_0881.jpgNew Haven’s Wooster Street is famous for pizza, but it’s also great for hanging out. Drive down Wooster any day and you’ll find St. Maria Maddalena Society members on the sidewalk in front of the patron saint of Atrani, Italy. Their ancestors settled the Wooster Street area, and founded the society in 1898 to assist immigrants. It’s the oldest fraternal society in Connecticut.

 

 

On the Precipice of Life

DSC_0847.JPGPrecipice
A little boy is learning to ride his bike in an affluent Connecticut shopping center because his parents don’t have jobs and panhandle to make ends meet.

Standing at the precipice of desperation, Donna (not her real name) swallows her pride and takes out her tattered cardboard sign, hoping motorists will help her.  She’s staggered by the kindness of strangers, who give her gift cards for groceries or take her kids to Walmart to buy clothes. She endures cruelty too. People going by in SUVs taunt her to get a job or hurl quarters. She still has a mark on her arm from one that hit her last week.

“I hate doing this, it’s embarrassing, but I’d do anything for my kids,” Donna says. I ask if she knows about food pantries and she nods, but says they don’t supply staples like milk. She also needs gas for her car and money for her $350/week motel room in East Lyme, CT. She says it’s hard to save money when you’re shelling out $1,400 per month in rent.

It wasn’t always this way. Donna was a nurse for nearly 20 years, but stopped after the trauma of losing a patient. Her live-in boyfriend was a machine operator making $50,000 per year, but went on disability due to epileptic seizures.  It didn’t help when he went to prison last December, leaving Donna with two kids ages 9 and 4 and no means of support.

She turned to panhandling on Dec. 4, 2016. She says cops in certain towns are more lenient than others, and some have ordinances prohibiting it. She has one kind sergeant on her side in Guilford, CT., who tells his officers to let her be.

Donna and her boyfriend alternate days, leaving one of them to watch their 4-year-old son. Right now, he’s learning to ride with one training wheel. He had a snappy balloon affixed to the handlebars today until it popped, but he was still smiling. He asked my name, showed me his bike. He has the prettiest brown eyes and a buzzcut.

Like Donna, her boyfriend hates panhandling, saying it’s humiliating. He questions my motives for telling their story, saying most reporters want to make people look bad. He says he’s already embarrassed enough, but notes “it’s better than selling drugs or stealing.”

He’s right about that. And that’s not my goal. I just think every kid deserves shelter, food and a safe place to ride their bike. Maybe he’ll get it. Donna just landed a job at a supermarket and wants to find an apartment to escape their motel room. I hope she gets it and their luck changes.

The Countdown

There’s a pit in my stomach, a mix between excitement and dread.

Final day before my mini marathon and I’m wondering whether I logged, pedaled and swam enough to pull it off. “What are you trying to prove?” my mother asked. “I’m not really sure,” I said. And I’m not.

I got really sad last year when my son left for college. I left my writing career and became a full-time mom 18 years ago because I couldn’t do both well, and I didn’t want to screw up the parenting part. As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar noted in a speech in New Haven last week, you can always go back and work on your writing. That’s why he gets more nervous writing than he ever did playing basketball.

You can’t go back and parent. Every stage of child rearing requires a certain self-sacrifice and at the end of it all, you hope to have a decent kid. Or not. I know a lot of parents who did everything right and still face enormous heartache _ drug overdoses, suicide, fatal car crashes, crisis pregnancies, jail, illnesses, sudden death. There are also plenty of parents who fail their children who wind up with fantastic kids. Sometimes I think it’s a crapshoot.

For me, the loss of control began when my son began driving. We no longer shared tales or the latest songs in the car on the way to sports practices. He was pulling away, and though I knew it was normal, it was painful. His junior and senior years were difficult _ he refused to buckle down, wouldn’t fill out college applications, drove recklessly, and held a drinking party for 75. He did things that shocked me.

The anxiety was crushing at times. A wise man told me the hardest part of having children is letting them go. I’m still working on that part, but getting there.

So maybe this tri, mini as it is, does make sense after all. Having one child away and another crying for her freedom gives me time to reclaim things that were dormant for many years. I used to run, swim and bike, and I still can. I just forgot.

via Daily Prompt: Final

Pink Houses

I went to a party at the West Haven, CT., Italian-American Club last night to raise money to find a cure for multiple myeloma.

The man who organized the bash _ and I mean it, the place was hopping _ has been battling the bone marrow disease for a few years, but you’d never know it. Uncle Wayne looks great and clutched a beer bottle as he bear-hugged my husband and me.

As John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” cranked in the background, I surveyed the crowd. One woman was in a wheelchair, missing half her left leg, but partying. A lot of others also were fighting cancer, but for this night, they were enjoying being alive.

Wayne told me he wakes up each day and looks at his mother’s gold cross, thanking God for the gift of another day. When I handed him a St. Jude medal, he thanked me and said he would praise St. Jude every morning too. Wayne said he doesn’t worry about his disease, leaving that to his wife and other relatives. He confessed he only wants to wake up every day, go to work and maybe play a round of golf.

“One day at a time,” he said.

Simple pleasures. And so it was pink houses for Wayne and others waging their battles in the cramped hall. Soon enough, they will face more treatments, but I hope they remember that night of joy and hope. I didn’t realize this until tonight, but the flip side of “Pink Houses” is “Serious Business.”

 

 

 

 

 

When in doubt, bittersweet chocolate

IMG_1271

Sometimes only a PoundPlus of Bittersweet chocolate is the answer.

I’m training for a mini triathlon at my local YMCA and it’s kicking my butt. Moment of truth is 7 a.m. Mother’s Day. While most moms sleep, I’m hitting the pool, spin bike and road in my quest to finish a mini at 58. I’m in the median age group _ I’ve got a 25-year-old teammate who’s a dead ringer for a young Peter Krause and my 70-year-old buddy Harold with two artificial knees. It’s Harold’s fault that I’m doing this. He did it last year and talked me into it.

We all have our reasons for doing this, but for me it’s simple: I’m doing it because I can. Plenty of other people my age aren’t as lucky, hindered by physical injuries, heart conditions or other diseases. I realize I won’t be able to do this forever so it’s time to grab the golden ring. Covering the distance without passing out is my only goal.

Besides sweat and chlorine-bleached hair,  training’s triggered insatiable hunger. I’m exercising more than ever and have gained five pounds. No matter. Today in Trader Joe’s, I beelined it to the candy aisle and unabashedly bought a PoundPlus of bittersweet chocolate with almonds. I snapped off six squares when I got home, and devoured them without guilt. Maybe I’ll forgive Harold for getting me into this.

Nude gardening day

Today is nude gardening day.

I love the concept, I really do, but this is so wrong for me for so many reasons _ poison ivy and its nasty relatives oak and sumac; ticks crawling into nether regions and oh _ my wooded corner lot provides no real privacy, leaving me exposed to unsuspecting walkers, cyclists and drivers.

Years ago, I thought it would be fun to run nude on a beach in Martha’s Vineyard. But remember that Seinfeld episode where his girlfriend is doing everything in the buff and he wished she would put on clothes? My husband muttered something about me looking like a flounder running toward the water. Body parts were jiggling that I had no idea moved when I wear clothes.

So nudists do your thing in the garden today. I’m keeping my clothes on.

via Daily Prompt: ExpJosed