Thursday, September 17, 2009

One step away from keeping a dog in my purse

I used to work for a community development organization. I would help poor people buy houses, prepare for jobs, build relationships and improve their lives. I would raise money for community economic development projects, set up co-operatives, guide volunteers and organize community leaders towards working for the people in their neighbourhood. In their neighbourhood. In their neigh-bour-hood HEY

Today I finished up what was supposed to be a two day meeting a half a day early. Since I was sure the meeting would go most of the day, I had ordered lunch for everyone. Consequently, there was a lot of food leftover since most people jumped ship as soon as the meeting was done.

I thought it would be a nice gesture to take the leftover sandwiches and veggie tray to the mission. So I packaged up the food, jumped in my car and drove to the ‘hood to feed the poor. Aren’t I thoughtful?

I arrived at the doors and got out of my 2008 Nissan Pathfinder SUV wearing my business suit and heels. I opened the hatch and moved my golf clubs out of the way (they were still in there because I spent Monday afternoon golfing in a corporate golf tournament on a beautiful private course), and took the food into the building.

There were a couple of people sitting outside of the doors having a smoke and they smiled politely. I walked in and handed the food to the first staff person I saw, and they thanked me politely.

Then I got in my giant SUV and drove back to my office located on the top floor of my tall downtown office building.

I felt like a complete asshole.

The definition of obnoxious - dropping sandwiches off at the shelter in an SUV and having to move golf clubs out of the way to get the food out. While wearing heels and a suit.

How did I get here? When did I move from making fun of ‘those’ people to being one of ‘those’ people?

Seven years ago I was the one smiling politely to the business suit people when they decided to slum it for an hour and make their way to the ‘hood to drop something off they felt the poor and withering masses needed or wanted.

Now I am the one being smiled at.

The trade off, of course, is ease of life. I left working non-profit because in order to work for poor people, you have to chose to be poor. In 2008 I paid more in income tax than I earned while working community development in an entire year. It was too hard to be poor. I had the ability to get out..... so I did.

Most poor people can’t get out of poverty whenever they like. Most of them have to battle through addiction, mental health problems, abuse, racism, a long family history of poverty and a complete absence of education or opportunity. I didn’t have those barriers, so I was able to change my circumstances a lot faster than most people can.

So, I left them and moved on up to a de-luxe apartment in the sky. It’s much more comfortable up here. I really like having a car – grocery shopping without one when it’s 40 below really sucks. I love being able to buy new shoes when I want them. I like taking my family on vacation and feeding them whatever I feel like cooking that day. We even go out for dinner from time to time.

I’m grateful for all of this, but….. today just kind of sucked. I miss the poor people. I feel like I have abandoned them. I miss doing something that really matters with my days and I fucking HATE the fact that I’m one of *those* people now.

Yeah, I know I can volunteer, but it’s really not the same. Working on the ground and being a real member of that community is what I miss. I want to be sitting on that step smoking a cigarette and smiling politely to the suits as they show up to donate some random thing in order to balance their karma and get into heaven.

Sorry, this post was kind of a bummer. I’ll try to be more entertaining tomorrow.


Raven said...

It sounds like a definite trade-off, that's for sure. But, think of it this way, most of 'those people' don't bother to help the poor at all, they spend their lives purposefully insulating themselves from them so they don't have to see, hear, or even think of them. You haven't abandoned them, you are still doing what you can and thinking of them. And, I don't think that you're doing it just to 'balance your karma and get into heaven.' You're doing it cuz you care about them. You can still care from the de-lux apartment in the sky. It's a lot more than I can say for most of 'those people.'

Don't be ashamed of your success, use it to help those in need any way you can. Which, it sounds like you are doing that.

Casey said...

I think you made the smart decision for your family. As long as you're not selling your soul for the job you're in now (and it sounds like you like it), you're fine. Your family comes first and being able to provide for them with ease takes a lot of stress off of you and them. You can still help in other ways. You golfing asshole.

Captain Dumbass said...

Living in your de-luxe apartment in the sky-ay-ay you can afford to give more than poor you every could. Shake it off.

Like a waggle of the club as you're in the tee box.

robin said...

I think you're being too hard on yourself! You might be the one in the suit and heels and the SUV but clearly you are not doing this to balance your karma and get into heaven! And that makes all the difference in the world! :)

rachel said...

I think you are being way to hard on yourself. Most people don't take time out of their day to give anything to anyone! People that care about others come in many different packages. Just like your story, who knows what stories lied behind the suits and golfclubs of the other people that have donated? I think you are a generous person and I choose to believe that the people eating those sandwiches later that day enjoyed them and didn't care what you were driving....

Jenni said...

Before becoming an at-home-mom, I spent almost 10 years in the non-profit sector. I know how you feel. It feels so good to help, to make a difference, to be in the trenches with really amazing co-workers, to help people lift themselves up. I'm sorry you felt like a tool today, but you are not. You have done the work. That's more then most can say.

Aunt Juicebox said...

Wow, I'm glad you found my blog, yours is very interesting! Can't wait to read more. Thanks for commenting, I love it when people let me know they're out there.

I can't see it as a bad thing that even though you've moved up in the world, you still have the less fortunate on your mind, wanting to help them. You don't have to suffer along with them to remember what it was like and show some sympathy and do what you can to help.

Blogging Mama Andrea said...

I can't see what you did as being bad or one of those people. Do 'those' people even drop off the food or do they just throw it in the trash?

You thought of taking the food to the shelter and actually did it. How many people can say that? Don't beat yourself up, you did a good thing. Maybe becoming what you think of as one of those people has shown you how to help more and given you the resources to do it.

Keely said...

Taking the food to the mission probably wouldn't have even occurred to me. So, um, I'll keep your seat warm for you in hell, but I'm pretty sure you won't be using it.

Lynear Thinking said...

I feel your pain sister. I hate parking my SUV near certain areas because I find myself feeling . . . stupid. Our company was supporting a Habitat for humanity house build and I drove over the see our staff and take pictures (and support them) last Saturday in my white Mercedes. Yep, at first, I felt like an asshole, but as we were talking, I remembered that I was not thar far away from poverty too long ago. I remember making $12K / year when we were in university and praying my car would make it to the end of my degree and my husbands, since we were in school at the same time. I remember not being able to afford to work because I couldn't afford daycare at the same time. I remember robbing Peter to pay Paul, and hoping my utilities wouldn't be cut off in the winter. I can also relate to your wishing you could be the one helping, instead showing up with what feels like a token of help. But I do find ways to give back and help others get off that poverty track, and I know you do too. So don't be hard on yourself, and you deserve your accomplishments. You worked for it and sacrificed. Those are the dues that we pay to get out of the poverty rut.

Lulu said...

You are not a bad 'one of those people' - you still have empathy and you realize a bit of the irony in dropping off the food from the SUV, etc. - but should you have changed into different clothes and delivered it in a junked up beater car? You could have let the food go to waste, right? but you didn't.

It's ok to provide for your family and have some nicer things - you work hard for it, no one's giving it to you.

Stacy (the Random Cool Chick) said...

The difference between some of *those* people and you is that you have 'been there'. I think Raven summed it up best. :)

Frogs in my formula said...

I agree with everyone else: You're being too hard on yourself. If you were one of "those" people, you'd be completely unaware of other people's struggles. I agree with Aunt Juicebox--she said it much better than I.

Crazy K said...

I just stumbled on your blog and I really like it.

But why do you have to feel guilty for "not being poor" It's not how much money you are worth, but how in which you choose to give back.

There are many "poor" people who make as little, if even less effort to do anything for themselves or others. It isn't how rich you are monetarily I think, but as a person.

Blah, blah, blah. I shall remove myself from my cliche soapbox now.

plainolebob said...

It did not suck, this was a very revealing an caring blog when you catch the undertones.
I relate totally.
Bess says hi