By: Beverly Graham
After the first couple of years of walking the streets to hand lunches out the folks started to post a person on the street corner to watch for my van. As I drove down Yesler, a cry would go up and by the time I turned the corner, 400 people would be lined up waiting for me on Occidental. There were so many of them that I barely had a moment to look up at them to see their faces. As I hurriedly handed of the sacks one day someone grabbed my hands. It caused me to stop and look up. A middle aged Hispanic man with a kind and gentle face looked me in the eyes and said “Lunch Lady, you save our lives”. That was the day I realized that everyone I was serving had a face, a name, and a story…They also had voices that were seldom heard…I knew I had to join my voice with theirs and began to tell their stories…It was how I learned that there isn’t a “them” and “me”… There is simply “us”…All of us… As my friend Tom Walker says in his song, “If one of us is homeless, none of us is home”…
For the first few years I put the lunches I made in a big satchel that my Mom had made me for delivering the food. I would walk back to my car and fill the bag buck up several times. The bag held around 50 lunches. Often I walked several blocks before I handed out all of the lunches I had made. I walked under the viaduct, and into the park we called “death park” where drug dealers made their deals… I went into the Morrison; a shelter that had mattresses on the floor and also walked to the Lazarus Day Center for vets and homeless people over 55… they all knit me a red, white, and blue, afghan.
One day I still had around 10 lunches left as I walked past a dark alley; I glanced down the alley and I saw a group of guys standing and gesturing in animated conversation. I decided to give them the lunches I still had left. I walked down the alley and the guys, all enormous, circled, and towered over me. It dawned on me that it might not have been a good idea for me to have walked into a dark alley with a bunch of men. But…I was there to do a job…so I pulled out a lunch from my sack …looked at one of the guys and handed it over as I said “would you like a lunch?”… Then all of the men started to scold me at once…”Lunch Lady, don’t you know what could have happened?”… “Lunch Lady, don’t you ever do this again”… They shook their heads…they “tsk, tsked” me, and they each took a lunch. From that day on, when I pulled my van into the lot at the Lazarus Center, there were always two men from that group that took turns to walk as my body guard. I told them they didn’t need to; that I would be just fine. They told me I couldn’t be trusted to “not do something foolish”. They were rough and tumble, and they had hearts full of kindness.
I used to walk through the plaza in pioneer square. There was a very large black man, (6 foot 6 inches tall, 260 lbs) that used to sit on the First street bench. He always had a world globe and other interesting paraphernalia gathered round him, and he had a sign with a bucket. He was a professional beggar with an apartment of his own and nice belongings. He wanted to date me…
One day as I was walking through the plaza handing out lunches and there was a bunch of younger guys, 20ish, sitting on the benches and I handed each of them a lunch. They had been smoking pot. As I handed a lunch to one of the guys a pigeon flew overhead and pooped on me. Yep. Pigeon poop. The guys all started hooting and laughing, tears rolling down their faces. There were two things I could have done…walk away indignantly or laugh with them. As I wiped the bird poop out of my hair, I began to laugh with them. That was the day I started to think of pigeons as rats…with wings…
When I first began making lunches for the people who lived un-housed in Seattle I used the money I made doing music…and then I used our house payments, utility payments, the kids college savings, took a second mortgage on our house, and finally took another loan…and then the money simply ran out. On the day the money run out I called my friends, Bob Hamilton and Linda Berger, who had been helping me pass out the meals to tell them I couldn’t buy the ingredients for the lunches for the next day. I felt very despondent and felt like I had failed; deep in debt, and no way to continue. A few minutes after I had made the calls I went out to the mailbox. When I opened the mailbox and took out all the envelopes, mostly unpaid bills, there was one that was sent from Kennedy High School; where I had been invited to speak about hunger and homelessness. When I opened the envelope there was $2000 in it. Lunch was on! It was the first of many miracles.