We don't talk to our actual neighbors...we're just not very social creatures. I mean, I would probably bake some brownies or a lasagna or something if I thought it was called for but we aren't just dropping by. And I'm not dropping off these kinds of care packages for the folks next door. No, when I'm saying, "neighbors," I'm talking about the people on the outskirts of society. Those that live right next to us and among us but have so much less than us. People that you may try to avoid eye contact with at intersections or pretend to be on a phone call instead of passing off any spare change.
Sweet Husband and I have made acquaintances with one such man, named Barry. We haven't yet learned his last name, as we can only briefly speak at the intersection while we wait for the light to change...but we know his name is Barry and he is from Miami and, thanks to SH's quick thinking, he wears a size 40X30 in pants.
So, with this information in hand, every other Friday as we trek towards the hospital campus, we drop off a Barry Bag. Every bag includes food, snacks, some sort of useful thing, instant coffee, bottled water, and cigarettes- don't @ me on this...the man is homeless and has few pleasures in life. Previous bags have included items such as a coat (graciously donated by a good friend of mine- Shoutout to Bacchus), insulated coffee mugs, gloves, socks, etc. This week's BIG items are new pants and a sweatshirt. The rest of the bag's contents are shown below:
We'll go from left to right:
Treats: hard candy and gummi worms. 10/$10 at Kroger. Can't beat it.
Manager's special baked goods: Muffins and cornbread. These are still perfectly good and carbs are GOOD.
Fruit. I generally try to include either a fresh fruit bowl or fresh veg something for good vitamins and just the luxury of fresh produce...something we take for granted. This is obviously not fresh this time...but I grabbed a couple of those little hummus/dip and veg snack packs to put in tomorrow morning.
Microwaveable meals: There are SO MANY options for shelf-stable microwavable meals that do not require anything additional to make. Barry lives in an urban area, with access to gas station microwaves, so I always include a couple of these Compleats, or microwaveable rice or noodle meals. Can also supplement with tuna or pre-packed cooked chicken.
Canned food with a pop tab. I operate under no illusions that Barry is toting around a can opener. So any canned food I get comes with a pop tab. Again, I try to make it something like a MEAL. Today, I got a Latin inspired chicken and chile stew and some jambalaya/beans situation. Both will go well with the microwave rice on the far right and the cornbread.
Bottled water and instant coffee. This is just logical.
High calorie protein cookies. Protein is so key and each of these cookies is 250 calories. We're going for density here, folks.
Mini pies. Because what man doesn't like a mini pie?
Immunity supplements. They were $3 on sale. I will generally get one bottle of either multivitamins or immunity supplements per month for him.
Sterno cans, for the canned food.
Holiday treats: Cadbury eggs and Reese's pieces eggs. I also did Christmas candy and Valentine's treats. Everyone deserves to feel special around the holidays.
And yes, cigarettes. Again, keep your comments to yourselves on that one.
We will also always get Barry something hot for breakfast wherever we stop on the way and include that, along with either a gift card to a close by fast food place or grocery store once a month.
Obviously, everyone's needs and access are different. Like I mentioned above, Barry has indicated the above mix works well for him. For bags that we make for our local unhoused at the food pantry, we don't include microwavable items as they mostly camp in the woods around town. If you don't have a lot of time to stop and talk to someone, write a quick note, explaining who you are and asking a few basic questions, Include a pen and you can pass back and forth to have a conversation. Barry knows our names now and knows when we will be by, We always ask him if there is anything specific he needs or anything different we could be helping him with. The only thing he has ever specifically asked for is pants. My goal is to try to get together some info on local resources to help him get off the streets. But for now, I think what we are doing is working to build a mutual trust and respect.
Barry has become a key part of our infusion day. I actually spend more time preparing his bag at this point than I do our chemo bag. Knowing that we are starting a spectacularly shitty part of the treatment process by being the brightest part of Barry's day really puts our privilege into perspective. Not that having cancer is a privilege, but you get what I'm saying. Cancer sucks and living on the streets sucks and we are all in this thing together and it's our duty as humans to do all we can to make each other’s lives less shitty. Even if it’s just with candy and cigarettes.