Rhonda Cagle

Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Stand

In Uncategorized on April 29, 2010 at 8:14 pm

I hate confrontation. In my past life, confrontation often left me battered and bruised – literally and figuratively. My mental health care professional and I have spent a lot of time on this issue, which has contributed greatly to her retirement account and, to a lesser extent, my sanity. But I still hate it and would rather endure a root canal sans anesthesia than willingly engage in confrontation.

So it makes complete sense that last Sunday found me gathered at the State Capitol with thousands of people protesting the passage of SB 1070. For those who have been living under a rock, this new law puts the “south” in Southwest, resurrecting Jim Crow laws and making “reasonable suspicion” code speak for racial profiling.  Think I’m overreacting? Read on.

Under this new law, my daughter will no longer be able to give her friends and schoolmates a ride home after school without being subject to arrest for transporting illegal immigrants. Many of Megan’s classmates came to this country as babies or toddlers. They are illegal in spite of the fact that this is the only country they know. Many have never been to Mexico; some don’t even speak Spanish. In this great land of opportunity, they cannot legally get a driver’s license, a job, or attend college as an in-state student. They are subject to deportation at any time. And now, they can’t even get a ride to and from school, thanks to this new law.

Neither can many of the children and families served by Kitchen on the Street. This agency that I volunteer with serves more than 300 Valley students each week, providing weekend meals to kids who would otherwise go hungry. From time to time, we also partner with a local food bank, distributing fresh food to their families. For families trying to carry small children and bags of groceries, we provide a lift home. Doing so will now get me arrested. I guess when Jesus said to feed the hungry, tend the sick, and clothe the naked, He forgot to add, “Be sure to check their papers first.”

And don’t forget the day laborers standing out in front of the local Home Depot. God forbid we would give someone the dignity of doing an honest day’s work. Under this new law it’s now illegal to hire them. Oh, and by the way, it’s also now illegal to give an undocumented resident a ride to the hospital; or, for that matter, church.

For several weeks, I’ve listened to the rhetoric on both sides. I’ve remained silent while the “experts” battled it out in the Statehouse. But I could not forget the faces of those affected by this new law – children who receive food from me each week, parents who now live in terror of being deported, young adults my daughter calls friends. I swallowed some Pepto-Bismol to calm the churning in my stomach and decided to stand up and confront this injustice.

Armed with our homemade protest signs, Megan and I arrived at the State Capitol ready to stand side-by-side with our wronged brothers and sisters. But after arriving, I quickly began praying that we wouldn’t be lynched. The mistrust was palpable. Everywhere I looked, brown eyes met my green eyes with a mixture of fear, anger, and questioning. I met their stares with a warm smile – and I held my sign where it could easily be seen.

As soon as people saw my sign, they relaxed. I had several women come to my side, give me a hug, and ask if they could have their picture taken with me. I happily agreed and put my arm around them while a husband or son snapped a photo. One woman stood and talked with me for a moment. The corners of her mouth began to tremble and her eyes pooled with tears as she thanked me for coming to support her and her family. “We are more than the color of our skin,” she said. “We just want to be treated like you are treated.” The poignancy of her words pierced my heart.

I heard her voice echoing in my head when I was asked to write a letter on behalf of one of my clients. This week the schools I represent needed me to write a letter to their parents, assuring them that schools are still a safe place for students. Many of the children are terrified that school officials will turn them or their families into the police. Families are afraid of being torn apart. Principals told me that students are afraid they will go home to find their parents gone, leaving them with nowhere to go and no one to care for them.

Confrontation makes me afraid, discrimination, more so. There are times when taking a stand is more than the right thing to do – it is the only thing to do. So, I’m standing. For my daughter’s friends who call America their home. For children who are now afraid of our police and our school officials. For parents who want nothing more than to give their children a better life. For families who wave our flag and, in spite of injustice, smile when they speak of liberty and justice for all.

Yesterday

In Uncategorized on April 18, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Every once in a great while, you get the privilege of being part of something that is bigger than you could have ever dreamed… more hopeful than your best expectations… more holy than a prayer. Yesterday was one of those days.

Yesterday more than 100 volunteers from all over the Valley came together to help Kitchen on the Street serve more than 1,600 people at three events taking place at two school campuses in greater Phoenix. If you were walking in my shoes, you’d know the miracle of that statement.

Three years ago, Kitchen on the Street started because my dear friends, Lisa and Vince Scarpinato, listened with their hearts as my husband, Dennis, shared the story of a little girl at one of his schools who went hungry at nights and on weekends. A few days before Dennis died, they emailed us, telling him not to worry anymore about the little girl – they would be feeding her and other kids like her.

What began as a handful of neighbors packing food for 15-20 kids each week in Lisa and Vince’s backyard has turned into an all-volunteer agency feeding more than 300 kids every week in nine Valley schools. Our first year of operation, we brought in roughly $7,200 in donations and provided 4,600 meals. We just closed our third year with roughly $70,000 in donations… more than 45,000 meals distributed… and thousands of lives touched with the love of Christ in the process.

Yesterday I had the privilege of seeing some of their faces. We worked in collaboration with St. Mary’s Food Bank, the largest food bank in Phoenix, to distribute 12 pallets of food. More than 225 families lined up more than an hour before the distribution began, waiting to receive bags of fresh produce for their families. I had the opportunity to look into the eyes of mothers – their eyes shining with gratitude for the opportunity to feed their children. And I watched as little children played together while waiting in line, their faces filled with hope because our volunteers were there to extend help in the name of Christ. As the last person went through the line, we discovered we had provided food to at least 1,000 people – many of them children.

More than 225 families lined up to receive fresh food distributed by Kitchen on the Street, in collaboration with St. Mary's Food Bank.

For many families, this food distribution is a lifeline.

Kitchen on the Street volunteers distribute bread, salad, squash, and other fresh food that is often beyond the reach of families living in poverty.

There were as many children as adults in the line, waiting to receive food.

Fresh food given by hands extended in the name of Christ.

The hope was palpable as moms left with food for their families.

An hour later, I was at another event on the same campus. Humana Healthcare had sent 30 volunteers to help us pack 600 bags of food for our Bags of Hope program distributed in local public schools. Many of the volunteers had brought their children and I was able to share stories with them of some of the children they would be feeding as the result of their effort.

Humana volunteers brought their children to help pack 600 Bags of Hope for distribution in local public schools.

I watched as mothers fought back tears when I told their children the story of two elementary-aged sisters and their pre-school-aged brother. Mom has stage IV cancer and dad is long gone. In a few months, these children will be orphans. But for now, the food provided by Kitchen on the Street means this family has one less thing to worry about as they make memories together and cherish the precious time they have left.

The children worked with purpose, knowing their efforts were feeding kids just like them in schools just like theirs.

The eyes of one of the little girls listening to the stories grew wide when I told of a little girl who was referred to the school principal for scamming her classmates out of their lunch money. As the principal asked questions, she discovered that the little girl’s house had partially burned down. Having nowhere else to go, the family is still living in this shell of a home with no food and no money. The little girl wasn’t intending to be “naughty,” but only wanted enough money to buy food. Instead of being suspended, this child was referred to Kitchen on the Street. We’re now feeding her and have had the opportunity to share information with her family about additional resources in their community.

Father and son work side by side, packing boxes filled with Bags of Hope to be delivered to local schools.

Yesterday, dozens of volunteers arrived at one of our partner schools. Armed with garbage bags, gloves, sponges, and cleaning supplies, they worked for hours sprucing up the campus. With schools facing severe budget shortages, janitors’ hours are being cut, which means classrooms are becoming dirty. Our volunteers wiped down desks, picked up trash, and pulled weeds. On Monday morning, hundreds of students will return to classrooms brightened by the help and hope given as a gift by our volunteers.

Yesterday was a good day. Hope won. In a neighborhood blighted by poverty and violence, food was given out in the name of Christ. Culture and language was no barrier to love. The sound of children laughing was heard as they carried home bags of food for their families. And because yesterday was a good day for Kitchen on the Street, tomorrow will be even better for a child whose hunger has been turned into hope.

It's donations from people like you who make hope possible in the lives of children served by Kitchen on the Street. Thank you for giving generously!

To learn more about our all-volunteer agency, making a tax-deductible donation, or volunteering your time, please visit the website, KitchenOnTheStreet.org.

Grown Up Questions

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Being a work-from-home person, I frequently use Starbucks as my office, meeting clients or vendors for a conversation and a cuppa. Although I sometimes mourn the fact that I’m not frequenting my favorite indie coffee shops such as Luxe, Drip, or Next, Starbucks offers a “one on every corner” convenience and a dependable consistency, however predictable.

And for people watching, Starbucks can’t be beat. A recent visit highlighted a busy “notice-me-because-I’m-important” professional warming up for his daily decision-making by placing his order with rapid-fire precision. Yeah, give me a venti quad skinny caramel macchiato. While waiting for his drink, The Busy Professional™ multi-tasked, checking his BlackBerry and returning voicemails loudly enough to convince me – or perhaps himself – of his importance.

Meanwhile, a rushed mom hurried in with her child, trying to grab breakfast on the run for her and her son before dropping him off at school. The little tyke slowly deliberated his breakfast choices as only a first-grader can. Oatmeal… with or without fruit and brown sugar? A breakfast sandwich… with sausage or ham? Meanwhile, mom was quickly spinning herself into the ceiling, knowing they had to be back in the car and on the road in less than three minutes or she and her little cherub would be late.

While mom was busy placing Junior’s order and paying for her grande-very-special-and-complicated-coffee-drink, Junior wandered over to the display shelves near my table where I was waiting for my appointment. He began fingering precariously stacked coffee mugs, gift sets, and Tazo teas. Attempting to avert disaster, I engaged the little guy in conversation. “Those are pretty mugs,” I noted while smiling at the boy. Silence. More fingering of coffee mugs resulted in more breakable objects shifting dangerously on the shelf. “Are you on your way to school?” I tried again. Success! “Yup,” he replied.

Now we’re getting somewhere. “What grade are you in?” I asked. “First grade,” he answered while sizing me up, trying to determine if I posed the dreaded stranger-danger he’s no doubt heard about.

“Really! I have two nieces who are in the first grade,” I offered. Somehow, that seemed to pass the child-snatching litmus test and he sidled up to the edge of my table and away from the very breakable coffee mugs. “What’s your favorite subject in school?” I queried. He shrugged, telling me he likes them all. Then I asked the all-important question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Instantly, his face was awash in thoughtful consideration. “Wellllllllll…” He pondered the question for a long moment before presenting his options. “Maybe a doctor or a fireman,” he answered, hedging his bet. When I asked him about his reasons for two very good choices, he answered, “Because they help people feel better and be safe.” At that moment, his frazzled mom spotted him talking with me and came over, hurrying the boy to the car. I called after them to have a good day and the would-be doctor/fireman quickly turned at the door to wave goodbye.

A short time later, my appointment arrived. A vendor to one of my clients, we went through the usual chitchat before getting down to the project du jour. As we were wrapping up, the vendor asked me, “So… what exactly do you do?” As I explained my writing/marketing/fundraising/communication services, I thought about his question.

We ask children what they want to be. We ask adults what they do. Why is that? At what point does our focus shift from being to doing? At what moment do we give up the anticipated joy of “helping people feel better and be safe” to merely collect a paycheck and make a living? More importantly, why do we allow it?

As Megan prepares to graduate from high school and community college next month, I see her grappling with this dilemma. She wants to study history and political science because it intrigues her. Her face lights up when she tells me some obscure fact about an obscure war in an obscure country and obscure time period. And yet she realizes that the sheer delight of knowing these facts will not allow her to make a living. So she’s exploring double majors and career paths that don’t involve her becoming a history teacher. When she speaks of these things, I see the light in her face slowly fade and it pains my heart.

I want my daughter to be happy; but, more importantly, I want her to have purpose. I want her “doings” to spring from “being” and visa versa. As she discovers the path God has for her, I want the question, “What do you want to be?” to still have relevance. I’m reminded of the quote from writer and theologian Frederick Buechner, “Your vocation is to be found where your deep joy meets the world’s deep need.”

In a busy world of Starbucks filled with multi-tasking professionals and harried moms, I’m raising my coffee cup and toasting to first-graders, college-bound teens, and the notion of deep joy. May we all discover it – and ourselves, our beings and doings – in the process.

%d bloggers like this: