Holiday Thoughts 1: Food is a universal need and a gatherer.

Holiday Thoughts 1: Food is a universal need and a gatherer.

Dec 15 , 2019

"The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in time of great moral crises, maintain their neutrality." Dante Alighieri

Disclaimer: This post contains the words and view of one person, and not necessarily those of the rest of the team or the company. I know the people who work with me have good hearts, and act conscientiously; however, the actions I take outside the workplace, in my private life, is not necessarily that of my team members in their private lives, and the following should be construed only as my perspective. I am blessed to work for a company that affords me an opportunity to discuss publicly those issues that are true to my gut and my heart. If you are not so fortunate, I wish you that opportunity somewhere in your life. With warm wishes and respect, Lisa Cox, CEO/ SVP Sales & Marketing.

It's been a whirlwind month of travel, and isn't over yet. This weekend was my annual visit to Denver, CO, to enjoy the holiday sights, sounds and cheer with friends: Two visits to the Denver Art Museum, first for Monet: Truth in Nature, and then for other current exhibits, the annual outing with an old friend and her kids to see Moscow Ballet in Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, a stop at the Denver Public Library where I discovered and attended an Active Minds program on the great race to The South Pole, pizza with friends. (How fortunate am I, and any of us with an occupation that allows us such luxuries?) And then an unexpected detour to share an evening with some of the homeless making their way along the streets or camped precariously for the night.

In this city, on the edges of extravagant holiday light displays decking historic buildings, are people pushing shopping carts with all the belongings they own, sitting in wheelchairs on street corners, occupying benches, sidewalks, and during the day the library tables and nooks, and huddled in groups in the shadows, hoping to remain unseen by the police for the night. (I do not mean to imply the police are bad guys, but would ask: Should there be a job for police to drive around rousting people from their spots? Or, if we fed and housed our own, down to every last person with a drug addiction or the inability to find a job in a booming economy where jobs paying livable incomes are scarce, wouldn't the police be freed up for other tasks?) 

I also do not mean to imply that Denver is different from any other city in this country. It's not. You go anywhere, and you will find the homeless. 

Downtown at this time of year are streets occupied by entire holiday markets: tents with vendors selling gifts- jars of honey, toys for kids, big warm sweaters, "chalet" tents with seating, music, a bar selling festive beverages. I don't know how people can order and drink those beverages and not have to find a toilet. And if they do- good luck. Public restrooms are not the norm, if they exist at all in the area. I've watched over the past few years in my regular visits, as restaurants and stores along the pedestrian Mall and surrounding streets have put signs in their windows and locks on their restroom doors. Commerce dictates, "You have to buy something to use the facilities." 

My small party did, before leaving the pizza restaurant and beginning our walk through the markets and up the streets back toward our hotel. But my roomie didn't make it all the way, and our task became to find a restroom he could use. After several attempts to find a public restroom or to pop into an establishment that might have an open one (there were lines at those we were pretty sure were unlocked), I stepped into Taco Bell.

When I first started making solo visits to Denver, Taco Bell on the 16th Street Mall was a regular haunt in the evening, when I'd drop in with a hungry person or couple I'd met on the street, to buy and share a meal. This time the place was pretty dead, and I was first in line. "If I buy something, we can use the restroom? Is that how this works?" I asked. Yes. So, I bought a dozen tacos. 

I didn't need more food, but after using the facilities, we went back out on the streets, me armed with a big cardboard box of tacos, and walked for an hour and a half distributing them, talking, smiling, joking, laughing with those we encountered who were happy to accept a warm taco in exchange for the exchange. One man sang a Grateful Dead song from his wheelchair and told us about serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that he regretted what he'd done. Two guys sat on a park bench across the street from a well-known hotel and accepted tacos, though one of them insisted he was about to enter the hotel for a fancy gig and would be fed later. A man with a guitar on his back, pushing a shopping cart said with a little wonder, "You're just a couple people out there doing something good tonight, bless you." Another told us as we moved on, "Make sure you have a happy holiday." I handed off the box with the last four tacos to a small group bunked in the shadows of the park, and a young woman in the group handed us hand warmers which surely they could use, and surely she knew we would pass on to someone else, as her group was relegated to be still in order to avoid being moved along. And that was our last act before retiring to a bar near our hotel to enjoy dessert: As a police car, lights flashing, rolled slowly by us to scatter an assembled group wrapped in blankets, I reached out to hand off the four hand warmers before the group moved on. 

"That was depressing," said my roomie as we walked up the street to the bar. I thought about that briefly, and decided for me the experience had been somewhat uplifting, to share time with people who even when down could find a smile and kind words. 

I'm not telling this story to prop myself as some kind of good guy, though I like to think I am, but to draw attention to the people we always know are there, sometimes cross the street to avoid, occasionally look in the eye and maybe even give a smile, nod, word, or even a quarter. At this time of year, please reach out to someone you don't know, but you know is in need. Imagine not having a warm home, a hot meal, a family or friends to spend the holidays with. While I acknowledge Dante, whom I love to read, was a bit dramatic, I copied the quote above because it resonates especially poignantly today. 

Food is a universal need and a gatherer. If those of us with plenty, or even just enough, were to reach out to those with little or none, we would be a truly great people in this world. My vocation is not to sell gluten free desserts. It is to feed people. Sometimes I will blog about pragmatic ways we can make sure people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and food allergies can enjoy good food, of course. And occasionally I will use this platform to speak my deeper heart: We ALL deserve a meal. Food is a universal need, indeed, and should be treated as a human right. And beyond that, we all have a duty to each other to correct the human inequalities that lead to the social ills preventing us all from having a regular good hot meal. Until we look that issue in the eye, we will have a long way to go. 

I welcome you to share your stories, experiences and ideas on this topic, individual, group, company. I'd love to be able to share in these pages throughout the year. Happy holidays! ~Lisa



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