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What Eileen taught me in the Soup Cupboard

Click to visit Deborah Kimmett's website

Click to visit Deborah Kimmett’s website

The soup cupboard at the mission, is filled with cans and cans of soup, and other non-perishable goods the public has donated during food drives. And even though it’s sorted on a regular basis, there are hundreds of cans of food that have expired. I ask Valerie if I can organize it.

“Eileen, can help you.”

She points to a tall, awkward woman, about 40, who looks like her body went through a growth spurt when she slept. Her sleeves hit way about her wrist and her pants show the tops of her socks. She has a white sweater that looks like she stole it from a child’s doll. I smile at her and Eileen smiles at me.

The two of us go to the cupboard and begin the cull. As Eileen grabs a big garbage bag to fill, I mutter on about how I don’t know why people bring such out-dated food. “Eileen smiles at me and bows her head to watch each soup can drop into the garbage bag.

I ask her what she’s been up to lately, and she says she just got out of Quinte Detention Centre.”

“Oh, good for you. That’s nice.”

Nice? Damn why don’t I just shut up.

“So these are your community hours?” She nods and begins adding bombing sound effects for each can that is launched into the bag. I smile even harder.

Two questions come to mind: One, “I wonder what she is doing time for.” And two “I am glad she and I are isolated from everyone else and are crammed in a small cupboard together.”

We fill one bag and she tries to open the top of the next green bag by pulling it open with her teeth. I help her pull it apart and she says.

“I am hungry,”

“Me too. But I think lunch will be ready soon.”

“I meant I need food. I need to take some of this.” She points to the cans we are throwing out. ” I have nothing in the cupboard till Friday.”

“Oh. Oh well then. Let’s get you some things. Pick what you want.”

She looks down at the garbage bag she is holding,

“I will take the expired stuff.”

“You will not take the expired stuff,” I sound cross. “Let’s get you food that is safe. Grab that box over there.”

I pointed to a pile of flattened boxes tossed in the corner which she grabs and tapes up. I wasn’t angry but I sounded cross. I was thinking how simply she asked.

I am hungry. I need food. It was simple. Unapologetic.

I started grabbing stuff for her. Like a Home Ec teacher, I look for foods that might offer any sustenance. I drop the bean soup and chili. At least it would have some protein in it, but she pulls it out. The tomato soup is the only one she wants. I look for canned vegetables. Better canned vegetable than no greens at all. I put three cans of beans and peas in the box and she takes them out, trading them for canned creamed corn.

When we have her box full she asks,

“Do you mind if I have some cake mixes, too?”

“My gosh, take whatever you like.” I am very generous with the soup cupboard’s rations.

She takes two cake mixes and a container of pre-made icing.

“I want to make cupcakes for everyone as a surprise for the Thursday lunch.”

“Oh, you do. People will appreciate it.” I tear up. So I turn back to the soup.

She comes up behind me and wraps her arms tight around my waist. I stiffen.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for everything.”

“Oh, that’s okay. I didn’t do anything.” I didn’t turn to face her. At the best of times, I don’t feel comfortable when people who I’ve just met hug me. She laid her head on my back.

“I am so happy,” she burbled.

“Lunch is going to be served soon. We better get a move on.”

After a minute more she loosens her grip and goes to put her stash next to her coat.

“I don’t want the buggers out there to steal it.”

I pile up the bags of expired food and think to myself how ridiculous this helping game is.

It’s like we are all playing our parts in a high school play.

I have the role of the volunteer. And she is cast of the one I help.

But she helped me far more than I helped her. She taught me how to ask.
At one point in our lives we will all be the one who needs to ask.

Kimmett's-play– Thanks to all of you who donated to my play about living below the poverty line called a Woman of No Fixed Address. Thanks to you, I am already a third of the way to my goal. I know I will meet this goal and if you have interest in this new passion project of mine CLICK HERE:

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