World Aids Day is almost over… Here’s a post to mark it:
Two years ago, I spent a week in December on an Alternative Break trip with ten other Northwestern students. We volunteered for God’s Love We Deliver, an organization that cooks and delivers meals to people with HIV and AIDS. It was the Christmas season, so we also delivered huge shopping bags of donated gifts with every meal.
In the kitchen…
The bosses told me to scrub my hands clean up to the elbow then put on surgical gloves and a hair net. About six other volunteers and I chopped red and green peppers around an immaculately clean metal table with long, sharp knives. One woman had just moved to New York from France without citizenship or admission to a university yet. She was short with big brown eyes and a paisley scarf around her head, and she told me about living in Paris and taught me the easiest way to carve up a pepper (lop off both ends, slit up the side and gut it) …. And there was an old man who spoke mostly Spanish… we wordlessly formed a team. When I’d chopped a lot of peppers, he scooped them up and put them into the right bowl. And when I reached into the table’s bowl of whole peppers for more, I passed some to him.
I wondered what these people were doing here, how they found out about this place, why they decided to volunteer to chop peppers for hours at a time. I started to appreciate the delicate structure of a tender red pepper, a human heart in vegetable form. I wielded my knife like a scalpel.
Delivering hot meals…
I hopped in the van with David, an African American delivery man with a gold chain who looked almost too big to fit behind the steering wheel. He blared rap on the radio… “Rolllll out….” and told me about living in Queens, growing up near LL Cool J. (Later, my friend Meredith –who coincidentally rode with David on a completely separate trip with Gettysburg College months later– told me that they got into a deep discussion about religion and he pulled out his stash of Gospel music.) Once he called me “Mama” and then apologized. He also apologized for cat-calling a woman out the window at a stoplight. He bought me pizza because I’d forgotten money for my own lunch. We delivered meals and presents in some places that I still remember clear as picture postcards:
–City Island: A joyous gay couple greeted us, invited us in to see their immaculate new house. They offered us cookies. City Island looked like a completely separate state, all rural and scenic.
–A housing project in the Bronx: Right across from an endless cemetary. We rode up to the apartment in the smelly squeaky elevator. The apartment inside was 1,000 degrees and the man who answered was almost completely naked. I imagined living with AIDS across from this sea of gravestones.
–A cute family in the Bronx: A white-bread-ish family, with five little blonde kids. They greeted us happily through the upstairs windows and ran down to help us carry everything in. We had so much for them (one meal, one bag of gifts for each) that it looked like we were moving in.
In New York: Volunteer with God’s Love We Deliver
In Washington, D.C.: Volunteer with Food & Friends