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  • Archive for the ‘OSL Stories: The following are my stories and experiences with OPERATION: Sack Lunch and has been a large part of what has defined my life for the past 21 years…’ Category


    2011 - 01.12

    One day I was parked on the corner of Occidental across from  the park. It was a much different park in the early 90’s. At that time the benches were removed so that those who were homeless couldn’t sit or sleep. If they did they were sited and taken into custody for loitering. The City wanted to keep the park safe for “legitimate” residents. I guess you have to dress or smell a certain way to be “legitimate”.

    I stepped out of my van and was surrounded by several hundred people who I asked to stand in a line so I didn’t get confused. They always humored me. As I began handing out the meals a very large woman pushed her way through the lines screaming at people to “get out of her way”. People did get out of her way because her oncoming energy was disruptive and because they were fearful of her. Her name was Margaret. She weighed about 400 lbs. She wore no shoes, even in winter, because her feet were so wide, shoes did not fit on her feet. She had oozing sores on her legs and she was angry. When she shoved her way to the front of the line I thought “holy crap, she’s going to kill me”. She screamed at me that I was a “stupid white bitch”…even though she was as lily white as me… She told me she needed more food than the “rest of them” so I gave her a lot of food, filled a black garbage bag, and sent her on her way with a promise that I would be back with things I thought she might need. She scared the be-jeezus out of me. She was 8 inches taller than me and outweighed me by 300 lbs. My heart was pounding after she left. Even the big guys were wary. One said to me, “Lunch Lady, that’s trouble with a capital T!”

    I started bringing Margaret vitamins, salve for her legs, and food that was safe for diabetics. I was sure Margaret had diabetes as well as being bi-polar and manic. Some days she was lucid and some days she was rabid, but she never was late to a meal. At the beginning of the month she could afford her meds so she was relatively calm and amiable, but, by the end of the month she was angry and rude and mean; Jekyll and Hyde…

    On the day that Ken Schram drove onto Occidental to thwart the authorities and lend his considerable public influence in my favor, Margaret was enamored. She approached me, shyly for her, after he left and asked if I could get her a picture of him because she was such a fan. I called Ken up and asked him to sign a picture for Margaret. He signed it, “to Margaret…Much Love, Ken Schram…” Margaret was over the moon. She had tears in her eyes that she roughly brushed away when I handed her the picture. I know that it became her most prized possession and she told people that she and Ken were “good friends”.

    I do not think that anyone ever loved Margaret for all of her life. No one ever made her feel special or cared for. She was utterly alone. She was full of pain and self hatred. She took it out on the world. Sometimes, when she let me, I would stand and talk with her. She was like a wary animal, always waiting for the net to fall. She told me things that had happened to her as a young girl that made me want to tear my hair and crucify the people that had abused her. I wanted to take away her pain, but I didn’t know how to reach her, or what she needed, so I just kept bringing her special foods, treats, big slippers for her feet, queen size clothing, vitamins and water. I wanted her to feel, that by my actions, I loved her. One day Margaret didn’t show up and I never saw her again…


    2011 - 01.11

    When we are children we are taught to hold hands when crossing the street, not to eat paste, to share our toys, and to play nice. As we grow we are often taught to stop sharing, to eat anything we want, even it is bad for us, and play any way we want as long as we win at any cost. It is no wonder that we grow up confused how to be true humans…

    My friend Jym Greene was a veteran of the first Gulf Coast war in 1990. He was a Navy Seal and had Gulf War and post traumatic syndrome when he was discharged. He had been chemically injured and when he came home he received no help and became homeless. He was often depressed. He began volunteering with OSL when he was 34.

    Every day Jym waited for me to arrive. He always brought a group of his friends and they would take over; setting the food up, getting out cups and plastic cutlery. The people on the street respected him. He was kind and gentle. He was also a genius. He could do anything on a computer and was a proficient hacker. He gave classes at the Library to other homeless people and showed them how to set up email accounts and access information on line. He wrote articles for the “Real Change” newspaper; a paper that supports and advocates for the homeless in Seattle; www.realchangenews.org. He looked like a big Teddy Bear and he walked the streets of Seattle carrying his back pack full of 100 pounds of books.

    Jym slept on the bus. He took the bus to the end of the route, woke up, got on another bus and took it to the end of the route. He never got a full night’s sleep. He wouldn’t stay at a shelter because of the pesticides they use. He told me that the pesticides made people very ill. His older brother Don was also homeless. Jym took care of Don. Jym never had an unkind word to say about anybody and everyone loved him. He spent most of his time doing research in the library but he never missed volunteering for a meal. He was always there to help. He had a hard time finding shoes because he wore a size 15. Once I bought him a pair of size 15 Nike Sneakers. The joy on his face made them seem like a $1000 pair of Italian Leather shoes. The gift of his smile is still carried in my heart.

    One night, about one in the morning, I was working on a grant and an email came in. It was from Jym’s brother Don. It said simply, “Jym’s Dead”.

    The next morning I called the Seattle coroner and found out that Jym had died at the age of 36 of a heart attack carrying his heavy satchel of books up a steep Seattle hill. I asked if they would release his body to me as Jym was homeless and that we would see to his burial. They told me that his family had already had him cremated. I was shocked! I had no idea that Jym and Don had family in the area. The coroner gave me a phone number. I called and spoke to one of Jym’s family members. I asked when Jym’s funeral was. They seemed surprised and said to me “Funeral? There is no funeral. Jym was a bum”. They were ashamed of him. I could not believe my ears. I was stunned for a moment. I was speechless. But then a burning began in me.

    “Jym was not a bum” I told them. “He was homeless, but he was not a bum. Jym was a giver to life. He gave to people who needed him. He didn’t care about money or belongings. He only wanted to give to those who were unhappy, unhealthy, and despondent. If you won’t give him a service, we will”.

    And so we planned a memorial service for Jym. We held it at the Veteran’s Memorial Wall. I did the music, OSL put on a meal, and hundreds of people, some homeless, some not, came in memory, honor, and celebration of Jym’s life. We invited his family members and had an open mic where people could talk about Jym and what he meant to them. Person after person spoke about Jym’s kindness and consideration, about his selflessness, and how he encouraged positive life changes. Jym’s family learned that Jym was not “just a bum”, but a valued human being; worthy of love, respect, and admiration. They sat and listened while all those Jym had helped spoke about him with love and honored his life. Jym did not value money, or clothes, or belongings; he valued people, and even in his pain and damage, he was a giver to life. Jym was my beloved friend. He owned nothing, but he had everything. Jym taught me humility. He was a true human. I miss him…

    let your heart break…

    2011 - 01.10

    Every day I tried to have at least 400 lunches to hand out. It usually took me about 5 hours to put the meals together and a half of an hour to hand them out. I always took extra food just in case someone came up after all the full lunch bags were gone. One day I simply ran out of food. I turned and looked and there were still a least 100 people in what felt like a never ending line. I was all of a sudden overwhelmed and distraught. I put my head down for a moment and then, embarrassingly, burst into tears. Not quiet running down your face silent tears, but heart wrenching, noisy sobs. I couldn’t stop. It was too much. The grief, the hunger, and the courage it took every day for many of them just to breathe. And I failed them… I let them down…

    All of a sudden I was surrounded by the people. They were saying, “who hurt you lunch lady”…” tell us who hurt you”…Their care of me and concern for me made me cry even harder. Finally I choked out that no one had hurt me…that I had run out of food. I blubbered that I was sorry I let them down. And then arms went around me, and people were patting my back, squeezing my shoulders and saying “you didn’t let us down”, and “we love you lunch lady” and “you just can’t feed the whole world”… and I was surrounded in a cocoon of grace. That was the day my heart broke…wide open.


    2011 - 01.09

    Besides handing out sleeping bags I also handed out new warm blankets. Blanket day was always stressful and the crowds around my van were very desperate. They would line up around the corner to get a blanket. Sometimes they would push and shove each other and I would get dinged. I am 4’11” and weigh 100 lbs. A crowd of 300 pushing people was a bit frightening so I would stand on the side step of my van in order to be seen and heard. I always had guardians around me that would say, “don’t worry Lunch Lady, as long as we are here, ain’t know one gonna hurt you!” And so I did not worry.

    After one grueling day of 400 lunches, hygiene supplies, socks, and blankets, an elder man around 75 tottered up to my van for a blanket. I had just given the last one to a young man around 20. The younger man stood there for a moment looking down at his blanket, and then he glanced up at the older man. He walked over to him and said “here old man, you need this more than I do” and he handed him the blanket…

    …giving away the only think of value that you have…This is where I learned true generosity.


    2011 - 01.08

    One day I was handing out lunches out of the back of my van at the Lazarus Day Center when it was on Occidental, a store owner walked out from their storefront and started yelling at me for feeding so many people. She called the police and all the homeless folks circled me to keep me from harm. A friend of mine, Chris Pence, who is an attorney, was in a meeting at the top of his office building at the Smith Towers and his partner looked out of the window. He was drawn to the crowd a few blocks away and wondered what was going on. He looked at Chris and said “is that Beverly down there?”… And so they hiked down the four blocks to where I was encircled by a human wall. Two three piece suits introduced themselves to the police officers as my “Attorneys”. The police left…The store owner went back into her store. I gave everyone a lunch and the drama, that day, was over!

    However, the Seattle police harassed me a lot in the early days of the program; 1989 to 1994. I was fined, cited, detained… One time on a very icy cold day, I walked across the street to give a lunch to a double amputee who couldn’t cross over the ice. I was given a ticket for Jay Walking. It was getting to be a battle of wills. The newspaper did a story about aggressive panhandlers and the editorial cartoon in the paper had a homeless man yelling at a tourist, “GIVE ME YOUR SPARE CHANGE”, as he grabbed him by the shirt collar. Behind him was a little short woman, looking suspiciously like me, reaching out with a lunch in her hand saying timidly “would you like a lunch?” The editorial suggested we should ship all the homeless people out of Seattle and get rid of all the “do gooders”… I had never thought of myself as a “do gooder”… The caption on the story was “Garbage in the Park”… I started bringing big black garbage bags with me and the guys would walk around the sidewalks picking up all the garbage they could find.

    One particularly hard day with lots of people, lots of cops, and me; a white van squealed down the street and parked illegally across from where I was standing in the throng. A man jumped out of the van with a camera crew. He jay walked in front of the cops and walked over to me; his crew filming him all the while. He reached down and picked me up and held me in an enormous bear hug. This gallant knight in a beat-up news van was Ken Schram… Unbeknown to me he was a fan of my music…still is… and was following my unpopularity with the Seattle police and the merchants. That night Ken did an editorial that talked about Seattle’s inhumanity… The police stopped harassing me after that for a while, and I began a slow evolution towards understanding the view from the watchtower… I have had many hero’s!


    2011 - 01.07

    Back in the early 1990’s many of the people who waited for me to arrive with food were a bit older; 35ish to 80. Most of them were men, some elderly women, a lot of them were veterans. There was a young man who showed up one day, he was around 20ish and very angry. He was big, mean, and wore gang colors.  He stood to the side of the line screaming at me, calling me names. He screamed “these people don’t need your food bitch, they need a fucking job! Can you get them a fucking job?” He scared me a bit and he terrified the folks standing in line. On the third day I was so angry that I slammed down the back of my van and marched my 4 foot 11 inch self over to him…I looked up and up and said “I get it, you’re mad. But it is not OK to be mad at me… I am here to help. I don’t think I am better… I think we are all the same. You are scaring the people and they want me here. If you can’t do anything positive and useful, go away.” I marched back to my van, shaking, and finished handing out the food. He stopped yelling.

    The next day I didn’t see him and I began handing out the lunches in peace. I had handed out 100 or so and looked up as I was handing the next one… The angry young man took the lunch from me. He shoved the lunch into his zipped up coat, stood there for a minute and then asked me, “do you need help?”… I looked at him for a moment, nodded my head and said “Yes I do”… He taught me how to let go of pride…

    Civil Disobedience…

    2011 - 01.06

    Overlake school, a private school in Bellevue, was the first school to volunteer with me in 1991. 12 students arrived to help hand out lunches…These were students from a very privileged school and I really did not know what to expect from them but they were amazing. We started handing out food and the police showed up. There was a youngish officer that was very full of himself. He dogged my heals, yelled at me, and was very rude. I tried to ignore him and not engage with him. The students were thrilled. The officer told me I had to stop, yelled at me to give him my identification, and told me that what I was doing was not legal. I was not a respecter of persons back then, nor did I care too much about respectful engagement. I might have told him to kiss my ass…He detained me for an hour until the sergeant on duty came down to Occidental.

    The sergeant was a big man; ex marine. I thought I was going to be arrested and was a bit nervous. I looked up and up at him and told him that I was NOT handing out food in the park. He looked baffled for a moment and asked me what I meant. I told him that I was on the sidewalk outside of the park but that I had not gone into the park. It became apparent that he had no idea why he had been called down to the street. The sergeant looked at the young cop and asked him what “the hell” he thought he was doing. The young officer replied that he was detaining me because I was encouraging people to loiter and that I didn’t give them a place to wash their hands before I gave them a lunch. The sergeant looked at the young cop as if he was going to throttle him…He left in disgust throwing a look over his shoulder that said “ wait till you get back to the station”…

    The young cop just could not give it up though. He didn’t like me…I may have been a bit flippant to him… He told me I was a bad role model for young people; encouraging civil disobedience… And he wasn’t fond of the population that was being served… He found out who I was, where I was from, and found out that I did music for the archdiocese of Seattle. He took a trip to the church in Bothell where I provided music and had a meeting with the priest. The priest was Armondo Guzman. He told Armondo that I was a public nuisance and a menace. He told Armondo that he should tell me to stop doing what I was doing. Armondo asked him what I was doing that was so disturbing. He told Armodo that I was feeding people and bringing them necessities. Armondo asked in disbelief, “you want me to tell her to stop feeding the hungry?”

    I started putting anti bacterial hand wipes in the lunch sacks. Whenever I saw the young officer I smiled and waved at him and asked him if he wanted a lunch…


    2011 - 01.05

    One Sunday I was handing out bags and it was getting dark and it was very cold. There were no more names on my list so I started taking names for the next week. I still had eight sleeping bags in my van. After I took the first name and ID I decided that it was too cold to not give those last eight bags out just because my list was done. So I called the name I had just written down. His name was Ramon Pantherbones. He was half way across the plaza and he ran back to me when I hollered out his name. I did not look up but reached into the van, handed him a bag, and crossed his name off the list. Ramon was wearing snakeskin cowboy boots and I could see that he wasn’t moving because I could still see his boots, so I glanced up.  Ramon was around 50 ish, Native American – Hispanic, very handsome. Black hair with grey at the temples, pulled back into a queue at the neck. He had warm black eyes that crinkled and a lovely smile.  Ramon tucked the sleeping bag under one arm and reached down and took my hands into his. He looked deep into my eyes.

    It was much like a Walt Disney movie. All the noise of the city; the sirens, the cars, the shouting, all of it just disappeared, and there was only me and Ramon looking into each other’s eyes… Ramon nodded at me…I nodded at Ramon. When I looked up into Ramon’s face, God looked back at me from his eyes. I knew in that moment that I had just handed Jesus, the Christ, a sleeping bag…Ramon turned and walked away. I had never seen him before…I never saw him again… My life was irrevocably altered.

    Sleeping Bags

    2011 - 01.04

    During the winter there are many casualties of weather…usually elder adults. A simple thing like a sleeping bag that is good down to 15 degrees can save a life. New warm white socks can prevent immersion foot; a terrible disorder that affects feet that can never get dry and clumps of flesh peel off and bleed. I made the decision that along with food I would had out new sleeping bags and new socks. They had to be new…Many times with the best of intentions we hand off our ‘throw a-ways”… For people who live on the fringe this message is detrimental as it implies unworthiness. Just like clothes that are handed down to the next child in line who is never allowed to feel the specialness of having something new, so it is when old and used things are passed out to those who are un-housed; no matter how they got there. I have discovered that when the feeling of unworthiness sets in it takes more than a place to live to make someone not “homeless” in the mind.

    The first couple of time I handed out bags there were near riots of people desperate to get a bag, but I soon developed a system. I had to be shown a piece of identification that had their name on it. I wrote then name on a list and the next week I had to be shown the same piece of ID and they would receive a bag. I bought 150 bags a week to hand out. The ID could be a library card, green card, bus pass, or a license, anything that had a name on it.  I handed out bags each Sunday. I stood on the sideboard of my van and started calling the names on the list. There were two lines. One that was already on the list, and one that was waiting to be put on the sleeping bag list. As the called their names I would check ID’s, hand the bag off, and cross their name off the list.

    One time I was handing out bags and people were pushing and hollering. I got a little scared so I climbed up and stood on the Memorial Wall at the plaza and I tried to yell over them. There were some very angry guys who had gotten bags the week before but they wanted another one and thought they could bully me into giving them over.  I told them they could not have another bag because there were so many people in line that had never received a bag. They screamed in my face. They were yelling at me and everyone else was yelling at them. I held up my arms and in an effort to be heard over them asked for silence. All of a sudden it was silent…Very silent… I thought they were finally quieting down for me and I was full of myself…

    From the corner of my eye I caught a movement a bit to the side and behind me and so I slowly turned around. There I discovered the reason for the sudden silence.  Two giant 7 foot Samoans had climbed up on the wall and were standing behind me pointing at the miscreant men that had caused such mayhem… The two men quietly walked away. Everyone else in line was sniggering… Guardian Angels come in all sizes.


    2011 - 01.03

    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”…