Saturday, May 12, 2012

Spaghetti's Gal

Spaghetti's Gal

One evening as the sun was setting on Miami beach I was with some people from out of town. As I walked toward the two woman with whom I was meeting near the water, they were lying on a towel in the sand and sun, another woman stood between them. I was confused at first because the woman was not with them but knew me and I did not recognize her until she started talking. I was beyond shock when I realized who she was. Then I began to remember all the times we would fall into each others lives.

I met her the first night we hit the streets in 2008. She was on a park bench, she had no teeth because someone punched them out. That someone was the father of her children. She was homeless and her kids were taken away from her... I watched her float in and out of the horrors of Homelessness for years. When I saw her on the beach in Miami she was a different woman. She had a whole new set of teeth, her hair looked different, she gained weight, was happy, healthy, and said she had a job, showed me her fancy new phone and had her family back, and a house. Best... and most incredible of all... she had her kids back. DCF gave her her kids back. She introduced me as 'The Angel' who helped her get it all together again. I didn't do anything. It was just our 'weekly lovin at Food Not Bombs', she claims we saved her.

THAT is what Food Not Bombs is about for us. Pure Free Love.

Food Not Bombs Hollywood hit the pavement in the Spring of 2008. Like any good business venture, we needed to begin by marketing ourselves. One of our volunteers made labels that read "bring this container back to 419 US1 Friday from 6-8 and we will fill it with Free Food, Please Recycle". We filled plastic containers with the best Vegan food we could find or make, asking local Vegan chefs and raw food junkies to donate their talents. A container of Sweet Pete's Chocolate Peanut butter Chocolate Chip Vegan Mousse sat center table for our first several months of operation. For our first night out we set up the table, which had to be extended due to the amount of food donated. Several people served the food and several volunteers walked the neighborhood befriending and feeding people sitting on the park benches, under trees, and on steps hidden in the shade. We even had a bike and skateboard team for longer distances.

In front of Publix at the Circle Bus stop that first night there were several people we befriended and told about our new exchange, you bring the container, we will feed you for free. Two woman sat next to each other on the bench. My buddy and I were standing opposite these woman facing them and giving them food. I will call her 'Lisa' because that is what she calls me.

Lisa was sitting on the bus stop bench wearing cut off jeans and a tattered striped tank top. Her hair was pulled back and wild wisps were flying everywhere. It was hard to tell how old she was. By looking at her you could say she was in her late thirties, looking in her eyes you would flip between twenty and fifty, and as soon as she opened her mouth she was in her teens. She smiled so happy and spoke so young and fresh. Her positivity was a bit blinding as her appearance told a different story.

She was sitting on the green bench with her sister, not sure if by blood. She was more concerned about what we were doing than about her own self. Immediately when we handed her the food she questioned if someone else may need it more than her. She blessed us and thanked us over and over again giving us praise for doing this for the people who really needed it... not seeing herself as one of those people, but she was hungry so she appreciated it. As she spoke her open mouth showed huge gaps and holes where a man, possibly the father of her children, had punched out her teeth. Her wide eyes and open face played on a positive note as she told us how DCF had taken her children and she just needed to get back on her feet in order to see them again.

I will never forget that first meeting with Lisa. Her incredible positive attitude, which could have simply been a result of too many drugs, too much abuse, and an inability to cope - she somehow simply 'switched her on button off' as my grandma would say. She aimed her concern in the direction of others, whether taking care of them or making sure their needs were met before her own. She didn't have a home, a job, or really an idea as to where she was going. We gave her the food and told her to come by when she could. I can remember the first few times we let her 'shop' in our closet or the many times I would see her and remind her that we cared.

At that time, in the beginning, Food Not Bombs was in the parking lot of a small Neighborhood Woman's Health Center. As Outreach Coordinator of the Center, they gave me a small room in the back of the office which we turned into a Clothes Closet for our Homeless friends. Lisa would come to the closet and we would dress her. Several times fitting her for a job interview, but most times giving her what she needed most, love. When she would not come to us, I would stumble randomly upon her while crossing the street in the oddest of places. She began calling me her 'Angel' and told others on the street about me. Mostly it was my ability to appear in her life when she was at her worst. I would just be riding my bike, and look up and she was there. Which for her was the most incredible thing.

She taught me a lot over the years. I watched her struggle in and out of all the little nuances of Homelessness. I found out where she lived, in which abandoned building or darkened apartment block and I began to leave her food and medicine when she was sick. I found out who she hung with and would always make sure I asked them about her when she would go missing.... she knew I would always ask for her, so she felt she needed to come see me. Just one stranger who shows up randomly for little glimpses of time... that is all some people need to pull themselves together again.

I took this picture of Lisa as she walked away with her boyfriend Spaghetti and friend Mike down the alleyway. The green bag over the shoulder is filled with food and clothes we gifted upon them. This was one of the last times I saw Lisa. I remember because I use to think 'that may be the last time I will see her'... She was elated because Spaghetti was out of jail, they were working on a new life and she felt she was on the path to getting her kids back. She was right. I remember I received a phone call from her about six months after I took this picture. She told me she was in a house with a woman in Coral Springs who was 'A Hippie' and 'all into healing and stuff, eats all vegetables (like you)'... I felt the last time I spoke to her that she was in fact on the right path. 

Lisa taught me great lessons along the way. She proves what patience, tolerance, and years worth of consistency can do for a person. Almost four years later... I see she is a true example of why we need to continue doing what we do for Food Not Bombs and the people in between. To be given the right to love the people on the street who are lost in between and have no one else. We, the People, can do this for each other. The Law Enforcement and City Officials should not deter this sort of community support and love.

For we, the people of EAO, see and feel the results.
Jackie and Murphy

Anyone who dedicates their life to service knows about the miraculous stories and hearts one can find hidden in the shadows. The first time I saw Jackie I was shocked, as most people are. I am not exactly sure what happened to her or what her story is, but physically she is bent at a 90 degree angle from her waist. Not many people see her at that angle, most people see her on her bike, which she has set up so her crooked frame rests precariously, but upright enough for her to be mobile and in control.

The first time I saw her my whole world stopped and my eyes and energy focused 100% on her. She looked like an illustration from a twisted book I know and she became imprinted in my mind. Over time I started to see her more regularly, which led me to believe it was only a matter of time before she would be at my table for dinner. She eventually began to covet us and would stay across the street and look at us, but never come to our table. I started to ask around and I found out her name was Jackie.

One night, it was a Tuesday night, I was driving up US1 on my way to Lovebags in Ft. Lauderdale in a borrowed Wrangler and I passed Jackie on her bike. I pulled into a parking lot and waited for her. When she passed I said "Jackie? Are you hungry?", which she stopped and stared at me with complete confusion. Jackie: "How did you know my name?" Me: "I see you on Friday nights, I am the Soup Lady, do you want some soup?" She was very frightened and about to take off when my dog Murphy popped her head out of the Jeep. Jackie dropped her bike leaning over and squealed to grab Murphy. She was so excited and intrigued by my dogs that she forgot to be afraid of me and turned into a small child accepting my food... which she in turn fed to Murphy by the bowl full.

After that chance meeting Jackie started coming around to our Friday night dinners. At first it was for Murphy and she did not want our food until everyone else ate, then she started coming prepared with bowl ready to have her special bowl of soup. She would eat three to five plates of pasta... which actually was being fed to an over zealous Murphy who for the first time in her blind/deaf elderly life found a true friend. Murphy loved everyone all the time. But one thing Murphy was not accustomed to, one thing she did not have the patience for from anyone, was squeezing and cuddling. She just wasn't that dog. That dog was Rufus. Murphy was an girl of action and constant movement without constraint unless she was sleeping. For some reason, Jackie and Murphy switched a switch in each other. Jackie could squeeze Murphy to her content and Murphy just went limp without ever a fight. Jackie would turn into a joyful childlike being that we all grew to love and look forward to.

When Jackie would come to our table it was like a magic bubble would protect us all. She would come with hesitation and then be confident. She became a good friend and always remembered little things about our lives. She would ask how things were going and you knew we were on her mind... as she always was on ours. If she did not come to dinner, we asked about her. If one of us were not there, she asked about them. Over the years I knew where she stayed and I would often drop things off if she needed them. We knew the circles of friends and would ask for her as she would relay messages through them.

Jackie and Murphy, how they found each other and how they helped each other through transitions of life... this is a true testimony of what Earth Angel Outreach is all about.

Murphy passed in July of 2010 at the old age of 16.

Jackie was last seen on her bike riding through Hollywood Young Circle April 30, 2012