Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Series of Fortunate Coincidences - The Good Macaroni and Cheese

This year for Thanksgiving I decided to adopt two families through a local charity. It's simple. All you have to do is say you want to do it and then fill up a box of food for the family or families you adopt, drop it off and there you go. First I was going to do one but then I felt like doing two. Then I got my students in on it in two classes and had them decorate the boxes. I obviously provided all the materials and because I am a hateful, evil teacher I decided to force the poor things to actually write about Thanksgiving and wealth and gratitude and poverty and all kinds of things that they hate writing about. I am so mean. I told them if they could spare something that if they wanted they could bring things for the boxes, but they didn't have to go out and spend money because they are just students. They are so sweet. Some of them even brought the tuna cans and ramen packs from their dorms. I welled up when they did that.

But ultimately, the adoption of the two families was my own project and I had intended to pay for the whole thing myself, which is not really a big deal since I didn't have to provide a turkey or anything refrigerated. I planned to go shopping this weekend.

Then the other day my shoe broke. It was a shoe from Ross and only cost me all of about $7.99 but it was a cute shoe and I wanted to fix it. I have misplaced my glue gun and I have no idea where the stupid thing could have gotten to in my shoebox of an apartment. I decided to call my friend Carina. For the past couple of weeks, Carina has been on a crafting bender of sorts. For her job she has to sit in on hours long conference calls. During the calls she makes crafts to occupy herself. All week she has been making satin pillows in the shape of pumpkins. She said she had made me about 25 of the things already and that her house looked like a pumpkin patch already. She was begging me to come get some of the satin pumpkins off her hands. I knew she had a glue gun and could fix my shoe, so I decided to kill two birds and both fix my shoe and pick up my array of pumpkin shaped pillows.

I went by Carina's house the other night for this purpose and she had a couple people over for cocktails. One of the people she had over was one of the douchiest idiots I have ever met - Ed Hardy shirt tucked in and all. Just picture some dude from New Jersey and you've got it. This douchy guy made fun of me and acted like I was some kind of a moron. I don't know why these kinds of people treat me this way. I think it's because I look younger than I am and because I am on the nerdy side and really the antithesis of anything these people find cool. Carina put the guy in his place.

"She teaches college you know!" she said.

The guy wanted to know where and I told him and then he freaked out because twenty years ago he had gone to the same school. He just couldn't believe that I taught at the school he attended. I'm not sure why that was such a big deal to him, but it was.

Carina fixed my shoe and gave me a pile of satin pumpkins and I asked her if she had anything in her cabinets to donate to my can drive. She found some pudding and some bread mix. The douchy guy wanted to know about my can drive so I explained the whole thing to him and he got all excited.

"I'm giving you all the cash I have and I want you to go shopping and buy food for it for your can drive. I want you to do that for me. Can you do that for me?"

Then I went through the "Oh you don't have to do that" embarassed and awkward kind of thing but he insisted so I took the giant wad of cash he thrust into my fist. I thanked him profusely. I really couldn't believe it. I was in shock.

When I got home I counted the crumpled bills and they came to a whopping $95.00. I seriously could not believe it. I almost fainted.

It was then that I realized I wanted to be a philanthropist - a Robin Hood of sorts. I want to solicit money from tacky, arrogant, douchy people, because Lord knows I know and encounter enough of them, and I want to use it to feed the hungry. This is my mission.

I told the story to my students and they had one request.

"Could you use it to get the families the good macaroni and cheese?" one girl asked.

"Yeah! The real brand and not the kind with the powder. Get the kind with the cheese sauce. The good one!" someone else added.

"Yes! Velveeta shells and cheese!!" the whole class roared.

I welled up again. They wanted the families to have the good macaroni and cheese. Just stop and think about that for a second.

I promised my class I would get the good macaroni and cheese.

This morning I went to Winn Dixie. I went there because it is cheaper and because I have a Winn Dixie card which makes it even cheaper. I wanted to get a lot for my $95.00.

As I shopped I began to have anxiety. I wanted my families to have a wonderful meal and some things for everyday. I got them rice and beans, pbj, crackers and cereal but I also got them all the stuff for a big Thanksgiving dinner. I looked at the price of everything I bought to maximize my purchase. I don't do that when I shop. I just buy whatever I want. I am comparatively rich, so when I go to the store I can just have whatever I want. If I want fresh fish I get it. If I want a lobster I can have one once in a while. I get fancy ice cream, fresh vegetables - whatever I want. I have never once considered the cost of my food because I don't have to. That is how lucky I am. I don't have to worry that I forgot something or missed something or that something will run out because I can just go the next day and buy more stuff. But shopping for my adopted families, I had to take all of this into consideration. I wanted them to have the most. I wanted to get them good foods but also some treats because there are a lot of children. I wanted the children to have treats. I really planned everything out.

Winn Dixie made me happy today because they had a lot of specials and Buy One Get One sales on things people need for Thanksgiving. These sales allowed me to get my families even more food. I bought pie shells and pudding mix, corn bread mix, four boxes of stuffing and two different flavors of Jell-o. Then I remembered that I had to get the good macaroni and cheese.

In the macaroni and cheese aisle was a little boy and his very old grandmother. The little boy really wanted some spaghetti-os. He asked his grandmother and she said they couldn't afford the spaghetti-os. He asked if he could have one can of the store brand and she got him one. He was a sweet, polite little boy. Because of him I got my familes each a can of spaghetti-os.

I reached for the Velveeta shells and cheese. I was getting one box for each family, but then I saw it - the big sign. Velveeta shells and cheese was BUY ONE GET ONE FREE!! That meant each family got 2 boxes of the good macaroni and cheese!! Now what are the odds? I was so excited.

My cart was overflowing when I hauled it through the checkout lane. Because of my Winn Dixie card, everyday low prices, good shopping and Winn Dixie's amazing specials, I bought two families crazy Thanksgiving spreads with lots of treats for $87.00. That is it!! I came in under budget.

As I paid, the grandmother and the little boy got in line right behind me and the grandmother started counting out coupons and there was that poor, pitiful, one can of store brand spaghetti-os. I did this because I've seen my mother do this for people a hundred times. I learned this from her. Before her, my grandfather did the same thing. I gave the cashier the other eight dollars and told her to put it towards the grandmother's bill.

"Go ahead and get him some more spaghetti-os," I said.

Then I felt horrible and embarrassed and like maybe I had made them feel badly and like I was some awful, awful white person who hurt their pride in the store, so I pretty much took my cart and flew out the door without looking behind me, but I heard them all, even the cashier, saying "Thank you, thank you!" So I hope I didn't humiliate anyone. I just wanted the little boy to have the good brand of spaghetti-os. That kind of stuff is important.

I wish I could give people the good macaroni and cheese every single day.

So thank you Universe and thank you douchy guy and thank you Winn Dixie and thank you Carina for all those pumpkin pillows and for fixing my shoe and for inviting that guy over at the same time I was there. Is that why they call this Thanksgiving?


Kim said...

I have to admit, you brought tears to my eyes. I've done the very same thing at the grocery store myself, because a can of Spaghetti-ohs and a box of the good mac-and-cheese can sometimes make all the difference in the world. YOU ARE AN AMAZING PERSON - don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

DiaryofWhy said...

Wow, this is inspiring. And you're right- the right brand of macaroni and cheese is important, and sometimes it's the little things in life that make the difference.

This reminds me of the family of the little girl I was a Big Sister to a few years back. It used to break my heart to see them eating nothing but Coke and chips and ramen noodles. It hurts to know you can't always "fix" things but you do what you can.

I like that the cause you've chosen is so personal to you, especially after you talked about your history and relationship with food and cooking. It's definitely a worthy cause, and I think it's great that you're doing this.

Anonymous said...

That was inspirational. I know that I am a fortunate person because I can always buy whatever it is that I desire like today at Costco it was a 4 lb. bag of pistachios.

Whenever there is a food drive of any kind, I give my daughter $5 or $10 to purchase what she would like to donate because there are valuable lessons for her to learn. There are always two standards that she buys: Spaghetti-Os and ramen noodles.

Thank you for the story because it reminds me of two things - everything happens for a reason and you can't always judge a book by it's cover.

Melanie said...

Thanks for being such an inspiration!

PrudenceOctavia said...

what a great post. I hope you all have a happy thanksgiving.

Living in Muddy Waters said...

May I suggest, when you do this again (because I know you will) that you look into Anyone can buy food from them, in fact the more people who buy, the more they can afford to get. For 30.oo families can get an enormous amount of food and fresh meat. You can also buy vouchers. They're supplying entire Thanksgiving dinners as well for some ridiculous cost. Just a suggestion.

realtor from Vancouver said...

Really inspirational. Sometimes we don't realize that there are people who would be very thankful for our help. After reading your post I realized that it's so. Despite the fact that the Thanksgiving in Canada was few weeks ago I think there is always opportunity how to express our gratitude.

Best regards,

Anonymous said...

I hear ya. I'm sponsoring a family for Thanksgiving, and I'm making darn sure that everything that goes into that box is a recognizable brand name. I don't really see anything wrong with generics (I buy them for myself all the time) but there is a definite psychology behind brands that I can't deny.

Jeannie said...

I didn't know there WAS good Mac & cheese (I don't think we get velveeta here). I make homemade anyway so it doesn't matter.

What you have done will definitely make 2 families very thankful. We were on the receiving end of a Christmas adoption once (our family was automatically on the list because we were on welfare for a short while when my husband couldn't work (we had 3 kids under 5 so I couldn't work either - no babysitting subsidies back then) The lady even knit the kids Christmas stockings with their names on them which we still use to this day. So the lady has been part of our Christmas ever since.

MtnMama said...

WL, you made me cry. This has been a theme lately; a dear friend just came back from a month in South Africa, and shared thoughts about how much we have. I love how you put this in such realistic terms. As a kid, it was the powdered spagetti sauce and the powdered milk that let me know we were poorer than the other kids in the neighborhood. It really gets down to that level, especially when you are a child.
I love your compassion, and I wish I could be a philanthropist with you.

Heather said...

This post made me cry. I hope your two families have a really nice Thanksgiving, and I hope you do, too.

kerry said...

You made me cry. I'm that kind of rich, too- I don't worry about how much the things I buy cost. I can pay it.

You're amazing to sponsor two families like this. I'm sure they will be so grateful! Not to mention that the food is given with such good energy.

Am I wierd that I like the Kraft mac-n-cheese with the powdered cheese? Better than Velveeeta? I get you on the psychology of brand names vs generics; I buy generics for me, but as a donated product? Brand names. I might be able to get 2% more if I buy generics, but the recipient is likely to feel cheaped out and that's not the goal.

silver said...

I always like the stuff in the blue box better also. And it's powdered. Guess it's what I grew upon.
Thanks for all your good work.

Anonymous said...

You, your students, your friend, and even douchey Ed Hardy guy made me tear up.

I am young and poor and have always had to budget my grocery money like that. And yup, I eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches, generic canned soup, and store brand macaroni and cheese. I don't mind (I take a lot of pride in being able to budget and being a smart spender), but it really makes my day to buy the Shells and Cheese, or having a friend bring me really good bread or take me out to dinner somewhere nice.

You will make those families really, really happy :)

Cupcake Forum said...

Am I nuts for liking either the cheap crappy powdered kind (made with milk), or the high-falutin' organic white cheddar kind?

Joy said...

We need to clone you... More people who really want to be a philanthropist.

Fancy Schmancy said...

You did a good thing, a really good thing. I got all teary, maybe because we're going through it right now. I had to borrow money from my sister for groceries this week, and every single penny counts.

booda baby said...

This is how it should be and can be. It's just not that hard.

To be fair, though, since I've done a whole lot of nonprofit work, there are people who can join, sign up, implement - generally do the work - and there are those who can't and so their best contribution really is giving money. Just saying, a whole lot of 'arrogant, douchy' people have kept a whole lot of great programs alive. They're doing their part, too.

Anonymous said...

Through this beautiful story (even the douchey guy) you've inspired
me to pay it forward. Our paper boy put 20 flyers (instead of l)
to help give people at Christmas
at .. get ready 2.97 per dinner.
I read what you said, (also a Canadian) and thought, I'm going
to fill them all out - even if the
paperboy was trying to make his route easier by stuffing those flyers in our newspaper, I feel better knowing that from reading
what you have done for your 2 families, I'll get off my duff
and fill in all 20 of those forms.
Thanks WL , we all need that extra
nudge once in awhile, and unknowingly you gave me that through your beautiful words (and
students sound awesome - great to

in Canada

who will be in the U.S.A. on Thanksgiving, come to think of it.:)

haha, verification word is krappits. I've seen many, but have never acknowledged them, I had to. :) person at a time
can make a difference, and so on and so on..

Anonymous said...

Through this beautiful story (even the douchey guy) you've inspired
me to pay it forward. Our paper boy put 20 flyers (instead of l)
to help give people at Christmas
at .. get ready 2.97 per dinner.
I read what you said, (also a Canadian) and thought, I'm going
to fill them all out - even if the
paperboy was trying to make his route easier by stuffing those flyers in our newspaper, I feel better knowing that from reading
what you have done for your 2 families, I'll get off my duff
and fill in all 20 of those forms.
Thanks WL , we all need that extra
nudge once in awhile, and unknowingly you gave me that through your beautiful words (and
students sound awesome - great to

in Canada

who will be in the U.S.A. on Thanksgiving, come to think of it
and I'm still trying to figure out
why everyone has said how lucky I
am to be there for Black Friday.
I'm taking a guess that it's a good shopping day before Christmas,
but moreso that retailers go into
the black on that day. Time to google now that I've written my
uneducated perception. (where did
this all come from ? oh yes, and yes to the meaning of Thanksgiving
Day, as well)

Your verification word is hilariously 'krappits' .. and I'll
take it that anyone that doesn't act themselves on this story of yours, whether it's as simple as
a smile,or reaching out others that
are in need (watch out for douches, of course)
are krappits. :)

Last,but certainly not least, I still am told I look young for my
age, (are they kidding? ) it's partially genetics (thanks to Mom)
and it sure helps :) you'll see!

Anonymous said...

I am so happy to hear this story. I encourage everyone to do what they can to help and it doesn't have to be a monetary contribution. It can be simply thier time to help pack backpacks for children that don't have meals on the weekends away from school lunches. Remeber hunger is a year round problem, not just Thanksgiving.

Albany Jane said...

That is so sweet! All of it.

I'll bet you made that little kid's day. Even if Grandma possibly had a pride issue how can you really say no to FREE?

dissed said...

Good on Douchey Ed Hardy Guy, and good on you. We have an ongoing food drive at my Title I school, and I'm usually the beans and rice person -- it's nourishing, goes a long way, a staple for our mostly Hispanic families. But I think I'll pick up something extra for the kids. The good macaroni and cheese, brownie mix, cookies, and maybe some spaghetti-os.

Joy said...

Thought about this one for 2 days now. You've inspired me. I always felt like I needed to win the lottery to do the things I wanted to help people. 95 bucks? I can help people. I will make a difference this thanksgiving. Thank you wl. I would love to give you a hug to thank you (if that doesn't freak you out)....

Manda said...

You have brought goosebumps to my flesh and tears to my eyes! The world needs more people like you! Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

Rachel said...

I used to work as a cashier in a high end grocery store in an area of town that was both affluent, but had a lot of poor people as well. I remember ince when I was working during the holidays that a women indicated to me that she wanted to pay for the groceries of the person behing her. The benefactor was one of our regulars, and despite missing a few teeth, she had a warm, loving smile. After I finished ringing up her groceries, I told her that they had been taken care of. She looked confused, and told me, "No, no, I haven't paid for them yet." Then it clicked, and she understood and she smiled widely, and repeated, "thank you! Thank you!" She was ecstatic.

Thank you for reminding me of this experience. I'm sure the benefactors of your surplus were as ecstatic as my customer was. It's a reminder to us all to treat others the way we would want to be treated.

Raine said...

That is wonderful! Ive had to rely on food banks before, and it is something exciting when it's the "good mac & cheese" or any equivalent. You rock!

Anonymous said...

I always feel bad buying ramen or generic things for donations. For once, I think someone who needs help with food probably eats a lot of ramen already because it's cheap, so I try to buy things that people wouldn't normally buy (like brand names).

Besides, why would I give something lesser than what I would buy for myself?

Reiven said...

and yet you still call him "douchey guy."

Carol said...

This was indeed inspiring.

I have to tell you that I think you are a wonderful writer, and the empathy and understanding of human nature you display makes your blog first on my must-read list.

Joyous and peaceful Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Josh said...

I want to be a philanthropist as well, but on a much larger scale. I want to build a new city where motorized vehicles can't enter, and everything is built along subway lines around the transit stop so nothing is more than a five minute walk to/from each stop. Just think of how much better life could be if you could walk through the streets, not worrying about cars hitting you, not worrying about whether the car will start, not hearing the roar of traffic past your house or car horns blaring... It may be a radical idea, but a lot of things (including cars) were at one time radical ideas, so that means nothing. Of course, I have no idea how or even if I can accomplish this, and that's the only thing preventing me from starting.

KT said...

This is an amazingly sweet, absolutely perfect Thanksgiving story -- thanks for sharing :)

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