Monday, August 26, 2013

Final Thoughts

I just finished my last week at Village Gardens. Today is Monday, the first day of classes. It is weird to be going back to school and entering back into my small university bubble. This summer I feel as though I have expanded my awareness about issues of poverty that are somewhat hidden from me in my normal, everyday life at UP. I know that growing up I have been very lucky to not have to worry about having a roof over my head or food for every meal and I think during this internship I have learned to appreciate what I have even more. Returning to school, I have noticed that many of the people that I interact with have very privileged standards of living and complain a lot about minor inconveniences in their life. It makes me wish that more people would be willing to do work like I did this summer so that they realize the actual struggles that too many people have to face. I am not trying to say that I know all there is to know and am now suddenly enlightened about injustice in the world, but I feel as though I can at least say I have a better understanding than I did before I started the summer. At the same time though it has brought about even more questions that I struggle to find answers to and may never be able to. Overall this internship has been a great experience and I hope to remain connected with Village Gardens in some way. Everyone that I have met this summer has taught me something valuable along the way and I'm very grateful to Village Gardens for taking me in for these past 3 months. Hopefully I have been able to have an impact in the organization as well.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Village Gardens Farmers Market

I haven't talked much about the farmers market in my blog yet so I guess now is a good time. Today was the third week that it has been going on and I would say its been a success! There are about 4 vegetable vendors, an egg vendor, a mexican food vendor, a couple jewelry stands, a booth for a non-profit called Foundation First, face painting, and live music. In the weeks leading up the the first day there was a lot of planning and work to be done by the group of about 5 of us, but everything came together in the end! On the first day the market was supposed to open at 3pm and by 2:50 there was only one vendor there out of the 6 that were supposed to be there. It was a little bit stressful being the first ever Village Gardens farmers market and not really knowing what to expect but everyone ended up getting there and it turned out just fine. The past two weeks have gone more smoothly as we and the vendors have gotten used to the flow of everything. Since the first week there have been new people added selling jewelry and soaps who have asked to set up booths for the remaining weeks, which has been exciting to see. The biggest struggle that we have had so far is spreading the word and getting a lot of people to show up and make purchases. The people from the community who have come so far seem to be really happy that it is going on but I think there are still a lot of people who simply don't know that it is happening. It is also hard when it is such a new event because it takes a while for it to catch on. We have used Facebook, Twitter, an Oregonian article, and flyers around the neighborhood to get the word out about the market. Even with a relatively small turnout, all the vendors are still happy to be there. In fact, the person that I recruited to come to the market from Foundation First who built a school in Africa and is selling aprons, bracelets, and other trinkets to raise money for the school, came up to me at the end of the farmers market and told me how grateful she was to be there. She thanked me about a dozen times, gave me a huge hug and asked if they could come back next year. It was really cool to see her so excited about what is going on in New Columbia.

Come check it out!
Every Thursday in August
3-7 pm at Village Market -- 4632 N. Trenton St.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Hunger and Anger

This week has been an interesting week at St. Johns Woods. We have a rule that none of the lunches are allowed to be taken off of the lawn that we hand them out. A little 8-year old girl, who is one of 5 sisters that come to lunch everyday, came up to me and said, "My mommy and daddy said that we need to bring our food back home because we don't have any food in our house." The way she was looking at me broke my heart. I have gotten to know these girls pretty well over the course of the summer and they have told me several disheartening things about their home life. I told her that we can't let kids take their lunches with them and she just kept saying "but we have to". It was kind of a hard situation to be in because we have rules that we have to follow for the program since it is funded by the government but at the same time there is so much food that goes to waste everyday that it would really be harmless to let the kids save their food. I tried to look away but I think that they put some leftovers in a grocery bag and snuck away. The two other volunteers who live in St Johns Woods told us that they were not surprised because their parents leave the oldest kids to take care of the young ones who do everything from dressing them, bathing them, and washing their clothes. This also happened in the last two days of the month which they told us meant many families run out of money. This situation is not something that any kid should have to be worrying about, especially at that age, but I know it unfortunately happens all the time.

On the same day we had a woman blow up at us, screaming and yelling, for a reason I still cannot figure out. Her two daughters got their lunches and walked over to the playground which is outside the area that the kids are supposed to eat their food. One of the other volunteers yelled over that they couldn't take the lunches and had to come back to eat them. All of a sudden the mother started ferociously screaming at us from across the street with a good amount of sass and foul language. Then she thought that one of us had said something about her and she started charging toward us right in front of all the kids. It was a little frightening and confusing because no one had said anything that should make someone so upset. After she left we heard from some other parents that she has some sort of mental disorder because sometimes she could be as sweet as can be. We also heard that she has almost had her children taken from her by Child Protective Services. A few weeks earlier she had come to lunch and yelled in the same way and threatened to beat her kids when they hadn't even done anything wrong. I was shocked to see such behavior by an adult and felt bad that her sweet kids have to deal with her erratic outbursts. It got me thinking about whether it would be better for her kids to be taken from her or whether being in foster care would be worse for them. It is hard to say because I have only seen a glimpse of how this woman interacts with her children. Hopefully I have seen the worst of it but I have a feeling that is not the case. I also hope she doesn't come back so that summer lunch can remain peaceful (or as peaceful as it can be with 30 kids running around).

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Some Reflections

Last week Megan and I met up with Jason for lunch to talk about some articles about issues of race and poverty in our society that he had given us to read. This past week we all met up with Melissa to briefly discuss our internships and what we had learned so far. My blogging has been a little delayed as you can tell but the readings and discussions got me thinking more deeply about my experience at Village Gardens. I'm noticing that poverty is cyclical and extremely hard to break out of. Its hard to even know where to begin discussing it because every aspect of life is affected by it or contributes to it in some way or another. A few of the readings simply listed everyday interactions or situations that white people completely take for granted and don't even recognize as a privilege and that lower class black people struggle with daily. Many of the things on the lists had never even crossed my mind as a privilege I have just because of the color of my skin. I can't help but feel a sense of guilt (even though one of the articles told me not to) because I feel as though my life thus far has been pretty simple and issues of race have almost solely been a part of my life in indirect ways like discussing it in a classroom or watching a movie about it. That is one reason that doing an internship like this is so important because I could otherwise easily remain in that secluded bubble. One article discussed the history of the Albina neighborhood in Portland and the intentional disinvestment and gentrification that occurred in these black neighborhoods. I was just appalled at some of the obvious acts of discrimination that the city of Portland supported in its fairly recent history. Reading these articles just made me think about how unfairly our society has been built and how powerless I feel in doing anything about it.

Along with the readings I also watched a video called "A Class Divided" about a teacher named Jane Elliot who did an experiment on her 3rd grade class where she divided the class based on their eye color and treated one group as the superior and one as the inferior, then switched the following day. The superior group was told that they were smarter, nicer, cleaner, and better in every way compared to the other group. I had seen a clip about this experiment in one of my UP psychology classes and thought it was extremely interesting. The kids who had been treated as the dominant group scored higher on tests than the other group but when the roles were reversed and they were now the lesser group, they displayed lower scores. Its amazing how just one day of poor treatment could cause an individual to look at themselves in a completely different way and lose all confidence. This has been replicated many times with many different groups and it seems to be a very eye-opening experience. The amount of psychological strain that minorities and impoverished people must experience after an entire lifetime (not just one day!) of being mistreated is pretty mind-boggling. I would imagine that hopelessness is not an uncommon feeling for them. I realize that I am uncomfortable when discussing issues like this because I don't like using words such as "them," as if I am so much different or part of a separate group. It sounds pretty cheesy but it doesn't make sense that some humans are treated differently than others when we really are the same. The problems of race and poverty in our society are so engrained into this complicated mess that I see it taking many generations to erase. This has been a pretty pessimistic blog post but I've realized that there is a lot to ponder and get frustrated about and I can't really hide from it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Back into the swing of things

After a week long vacation to New York City with my family, I got back into the swing of things this week in the deli making sandwiches, doing summer lunch, and meeting to discuss the farmers market (which starts next Thursday!). Some goofing off might have also taken place:

Today at summer lunch all three of the people who normally help out were not able to make it so I was left by myself to do everything. There were a couple of kids helping me out by bringing lunches from my car into the office. Somehow a few words were exchanged between them and before I knew it the little girl was crying. She said something to the boy which set him off  and he came back with a comment about her "ugly clothes." I tried to console the little girl and then asked the boy to apologize to her but he refused. He knew he had done something wrong when she started crying and tried to ignore the situation and anything I was telling him by pretending to read a book that had been sitting on the table. It reminded me a lot of myself when I was a kid and didn't want to explain myself to my parents so I would fidget with something nearby to avoid eye contact. I gave him some time and then asked again for the apology and again he said no. I had to leave for a minute and came back to see them talking to each other. I was worried that they were fighting again but to my surprise the boy said he had apologized. However the little girl said she wouldn't forgive him. I tried to tell her that it was the right thing to do when someone apologizes to you. I didn't really know the best way to handle the whole situation or the right things to say to make them stop arguing. It seemed like something that had been ongoing or had happened between them before so it was hard to tell what set them off. Looking back I should have stopped them from arguing earlier before it escalated to crying. Next time something like that happens I will try to make them stop right away and figure out what the root of the problem is before insults are exchanged. Hopefully I can be more assertive next time conflicts arise between the kids.

Once the clock hit noon I was running around like a crazy woman since I was alone trying to get the lunches from the refrigerator outside, marking off the lunches that were given out, and keeping the kids under control because they seemed to be extra rowdy today and all came at once. Thankfully some of the older kids offered to help me out. They were so excited to help that they were getting in each others' way and in my way but I really appreciated it. A few of them even offered to wait until the end to eat their lunches. After everything had settled down from the initial rush one of the girls said to me, "you're really sweet," which was nice to hear after feeling like Meany Boss Lady. It was an eventful Friday but overall a good week back after vacation!

Sunday, June 30, 2013


This week in the Village Market deli, we added a new item to the grab-and-go case: a parfait with honey yogurt, berries, and granola. So naturally this meant we had to come up with a creative name to put on the label. Here were some of our ideas that lead to hysterical giggling fits between Megan and I...

  • Berry Yummy Parfait
  • Eat Meh Parfait
  • Okay Parfait
  • Its Gonna Be Meh Parfait
  • Cray Cray Parfait
  • No Barf Parfait
  • Scarf A Parfait
  • No/Yes Way Parfait
  • Partay Parfait
  • Today Parfait
  • Berry Garcia Parfait
  • Today Parfait
  • OMG Parfait
As you can tell with all of these great options, it was a tough choice. So tough that Jason went back  and chose the least original name, "Yogurt Parfait." I'm glad that our brilliant ideas are documented somewhere now. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Little boy with the earrings

For the past week we have had about 50 kids of all ages come each day to get a free lunch from us. We serve the lunches from the Village Gardens office which is located in the middle of the St Johns Woods apartment complex. There is one little boy who has come for a couple of days who has triggered my "psychology radar". He is probably about 5 years old and is the ultimate attention seeker. The first time he came to summer lunch he was wrestling with one of his friends, pretending to play football. I noticed that a lot of his interactions involved fighting or threatening (mostly in a joking way). He was definitely trying to act older than his age but one time when he bumped heads with another kid and the tears immediately streamed down his face, I remembered how young he actually was. I have never seen an adult supervising him and whenever someone asks he says that his mom is at work and his aunt or uncle is taking care of him but is at home. He spent one lunch time running up behind my chair, waiting until I turned around, and then running and giggling away. This was repeated about 50 times and never seemed to get old. He has also brought me a handful of flower petals everyday, which has been pretty adorable.

He seemed to be acting like a normal rambunctious kid but when all the other kids left and I was doing some work in the office, he came in and just plopped on the seat next to me. A woman came in to check in on how our summer lunch program was going and ask me some questions and he quietly and patiently sat there the whole time. Another day, I was walking to my car to leave and he saw me while he was biking around. He came up to me, wanting me to play with him and when I told him that I needed to leave he threw a little fit. He started hitting his bike on my car, hitting me, and telling me to shut up. I was surprised by his sudden change of mood and tried to calm him down. He said he was mad at me because I was leaving but eventually I got him to stop and walked him over to where some kids were playing. I do not want to make any false assumptions but based on his behavior of always craving attention and following me around everywhere, it seems that he doesn't get very much attention at home. He is trying to interact and seek attention wherever he can get it. He also reacted with physical aggression and anger when things didn't go his way which makes me think that the examples that have been set for him by his parents have taught him that this is the proper way to deal with issues. He is a great kid but I can see certain behaviors that concern me as he grows up and develops.

Whenever I look at the kids that come to the summer lunch program I always imagine what they will be like in 10 or even 15 years. I also wonder what kind of impact the environment that they grow up in and their fairly limited opportunities will have on their later lives. This little boy is an adorable kid about half my size with chocolate brown skin and a diamond earring on each ear, and just like all the other kids, I wonder what kind of a teenager and adult he will turn out to be.