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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: August 2, 2018

Plugging In

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,



**********

We have now been back home in Wisconsin for six weeks and are starting to feel a little more settled in at the demented tiny house (the camper we currently are residing in while our home is built " with our big dog, our bigger dog, and our four cats.) So we now have begun to "plug in" to our new neighborhood and community.

We made the decision to join my husband's little childhood church, and are getting acquainted, or in some cases re-acquainted, with our fellow parishioners. We have met most of our new neighbors and chat with them when we are out walking, or exchange waves when driving. Mike attended the local antique tractor pull with family members and had fun at this old-fashioned, wholesome event. We are looking forward to the "Steam Engine" Days coming up next, because we've been told the flea market there is not to be missed. And Sunday we attended a snowmobile club's pancake breakfast " with lots of cheese curds (a uniquely Wisconsin breakfast item,) sausage, and $3 bloody mary or screwdriver beverages. I sent my friend in Georgia a description of this event and she (a former Wisconsin native herself,) said "That is just SO Wisconsin." She's right.

I had signed up at church to help prepare and serve a dinner at for an organization in Wausau which provides a hot meal to those who are homeless, lonely, or under financial constraints. Their tiny staff is assisted for each meal by a variety of local churches and groups who volunteer to help on a rotating basis, and Thursday night was my church's night to choose a menu, make the food, serve, set up and clean up.

The facility normally serves about 125 meals per evening, and there were people waiting at the door 45 minutes before serving began. Two hours before serving time started, I met my fun team of co-workers and the coordinator who is part of the staff at the facility. After helping make fruit salads I started running the industrial dishwasher " a task I remember doing at Camp Bird 4-H camp 45+ years ago. What a lot of memories that brought back.

Once the food serving started I was part of the serving line, so I had a chance to interact with the attendees. Homeless people were part of the landscape in Tulsa, and our church in Bixby, Oklahoma, served as the community food bank. Seeing people living under bridges or sleeping on cardboard sheets in parks was totally, if regrettably, normal. So the face of those in need is not new to me. But I think these same unfortunate people are less visible in Wisconsin rural areas and smaller cities " but those faces are among us here too.

There were those with obvious physical and mental health challenges. A blind woman was helped through the line by a companion. Non-verbal adults pointed at their choices while avoiding eye contact. Two adorable children under six appeared overwhelmed and thrilled by the choices available to them, while their adult escort thanked each server profusely. Several people had significant facial deformities and/or severe speech impediments " but we did our best to look them in the eye, communicate as well as possible, and ensure they got exactly what they preferred on their trays.

Some wore dirty, wrinkled clothes and a few wore work attire " shirts with company names on them, a reminder that not everyone who is employed can really make ends meet. Nearly all of them wanted to exchange a few words, share a joke, or express appreciation to us. Their humanity is intact, despite their circumstances, and they wanted to connect with us.

I found the young woman next to me on the serving line the most impressive of the volunteers. She's a beautiful inside-and-out college student, studying nursing but home for the summer. She works nights as a nursing assistant at a local hospital, and had just completed four night shifts with another ahead of her after she finished with us. Nonetheless, after sleeping in the morning she was on her feet serving at the dinner. She had a gift of connecting with people, outgoing and friendly and seemingly able to know just what to say to each person. Her parents have raised her well, and after she graduates I have no doubt she will be an outstanding nurse. Not only am I confident she'll master the technical skill of nursing, she has that special ability to communicate in an open and non-judgmental way. I learned a lot by standing next to her for a few hours.

I also admire the two women who supervise this activity for the sponsoring agency. While we were there getting our hands dirty for a few hours, they devote their time on a regular basis in service of others. It must be difficult not to get hardened to the struggles and quirks of those whom they serve, but they continue to exhibit patience and compassion. They were rigorous about food safety and quality " as if it were their own family they were feeding.

It is hard, very hard, to look into the eyes of those who struggle in our society. But I am encouraged that we have caring adults extending their hand to others now, as well as outstanding young people preparing to do their part to try and make things better. These people, like those in need of our help, are all around us as well, you need only to look.

Happy birthday to our son Sam today. Sam serves as a teacher and mentor to at-risk high school students at Street School in Tulsa, and I know he is making a difference in the lives of a lot of kids in very sad circumstances.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.






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