They don’t wear cashmere here and they don’t drive Escalades. They wear sweats and drive sedans with rusted rocker panels, or come by bus, by cab, or on foot.
They don’t give fives, they give a dollar or loose change. Or, in the case some years ago of one homeless man scouring the pavement for cigarette butts worth relighting, one shiny penny removed from a plastic change purse pulled out from under his overcoat and the coat under it.
As an East Toledo Club member, I’ve manned the red kettle here, first, at Foodtown, now at Toledo Food Center, for 17 years.
My daughter’s been with me the last six or seven. I asked her to come when she was in high school. Said community service would look good when she applied to college. She’s a biologist now, but she still comes.
On this day, a man stops to chat. Tells us he won’t stay at the Cherry Street Mission. Too loud, he says. He stays with friends in East Toledo or, when on good terms with his girlfriend, at her house in North Toledo. He tells us his life story while waiting for someone who promised to buy him a rib sandwich. He’s bi-polar, he says. Shows me his disability papers. Most everyone here knows him. They exchange greetings like neighbors. He likes to talk. Mostly to me, but sometimes to himself. Finally, his friend exits the store, gives him a couple dollars, but no rib sandwich.
“I wanted a rib sandwich,” he says. They both reenter the store. A few minutes later he comes out without the sandwich and heads up the street chattering to no one, or, maybe, to anyone who will listen.
Santa and Mrs. Claus stop by to pass out gifts from a local church. The eyes of the children light up with joy and gratitude.
I hope my daughter learns to be thankful for what she has. I hope she learns generosity by watching East Toledoans teach their children. No one with a child walks by without that child feeding the kettle. No one.
This neighborhood spans lower middle class to poor. Many who shop at this store know what The Salvation Army does. They tell me stories about how their families were helped when in need. They know this year more have less than they do. So, they give.
Every kettle is important as are the annual envelopes that come in the mail. Especially this year when need is up and the kettles down. The goal is $400,000, says Major Clyde Jones, coordinator for The Salvation Army of Northwest Ohio. Unfortunately, 21 of 65 locations including The Pharm and Value City are no longer in business. That’s a $70,000 shortfall. And, a partner chain shortened the period for solicitation. Another $30,000 lost.
This kettle on this Saturday will bring in $120 to $350.
The money funds many programs for the needy. Christmas baskets, utility, rent and prescription assistance, and toys and coats for kids are just some. This year, 1,500 families received food baskets, last year 900. This year, with the help of the United States Marines Toys for Tots program, 4,000 kids received a toy, last year 2,900.
Major Jones says the recession has brought him a new layer of poor.
“We saw a 15 to 25 percent increase of the number of people who came to us through the clearing bureau at Christmas time. Forty percent are new to the system. They’ve never had to ask for help before. Maybe some have lost their job or they were in a very god job and now they are in one that doesn’t pay as well, or has benefits. We all are probably only two or three paychecks away from coming to The Salvation Army for help,” he says.
Stay humble, I say to myself. Two or three paychecks away….
As we look at the buildings that surround us we see a mixture of decay and revitalization. The Masonic Building sits empty, window shades askew, a six-foot chain link fence surrounds the building to keep vandals out. A lime-green ribbon has been painted around the foundation and a hand-painted sign on the roof proclaims this former hub of civic activity the Toledo Paintball Coloseum.
Shoot me now.
But, across Main Street, a new generation of entrepreneurs has renovated the buildings in which a previous generation provided services to working-class families who pinned their hopes on the factories, refineries and shipyards of East Toledo.
Today, they await the promise of The Marina District. And, its developer waits for the bail out of Wall Street to trickle down to Front Street. And, today, the resolute poor give to the less fortunate.