In addition to learning about the human condition when I meet people during visits around the community, I also discover things about bikes. Sometimes the hard way.
Last Monday’s delivery to The Salvation Army was a bloody one. Delayed a bit due to rain, the regular crew was already there waiting for dinner outside the cafeteria when I rolled up. Just after I unscrewed the pins near the rear hub and unhooked the bike from the trailer (one of the first logistical tasks), I noticed that a kid squeezing and sucking the last drops from a juice box was getting fruit punch all over the cart, books and somehow, me. Or so I thought.
Turns out I managed to slice the tip of my ring finger on a disc break rotor and smear blood on just about everything I touched. I held a washcloth against it to stem the flow and the concerned kids quickly took up organizing books on the shelves. Five minutes later, a kind Tolkien fan named Jenny emerged from the building wielding Band-Aids, which she wrapped around my finger with great care.
The rest of the evening went well. I chatted at length with a number of folks, including a homeless man named Will, who, like me, has fond and not-so-fond memories of South Georgia and North Florida. Nine people walked away with books, and I made it back before the darkening sky opened up. Tonight I’ll return to the Salvation Army with requests for Judy Blume, The Hobbit, and a copy of David Pelzer’s A Child Called “It,” a harrowing story about abuse. I’ll also be mindful of the disc rotors.
The day I met Tracy, the site manager for Summer Food Service distribution at The Salvation Army, the program was shuttered due to low turnout. I happened to catch Tracy and three other women walking out of the cafeteria on that last day (June fifth), so I delivered the usual elevator pitch. She explained why lunches would no longer be served, then invited me to bring books around dinnertime.
“On any given night, between six to eight families stay here. We serve dinner from five to six, and people start showing up around four.”
“I’ll see you next Monday.”
Drenched in sweat, I pulled into the parking lot behind the cafeteria a little before four. A woman poked her head out of the door and gave me a curious look. I introduced myself, explained the strange rig, then set everything up.
Initially, mostly men walked up and situated themselves on the concrete benches. Most knew each other, and a few asked about the Bibliobike. Many mentioned how much they looked forward to showering after dinner.
During the next hour, moms, dads and kids joined us as the group swelled to around forty. I gave away thirteen books in all – many to adults planning to pass them along to young family members. A man with a long grey braid named Mike chose a book about dinosaurs for a nephew which sparked a conversation about places to find fossils in Georgia. Another man selected two books for a grandson in Chicago. Some moms sent their children over on their own to select books. Others chatted while helping their kids choose. From illness to prison stints, snippets of conversations throughout the evening revealed a range of struggles rooted in poverty.