Giving Back to the Community
It is a beautifully warm day at 1400 North Bond Street, Baltimore. A crowd of people gather along the street’s crackling sidewalk. They talk to each other, smile and laugh. Standing outside the crowd is another group, clearly separate. The two groups are Baltimoreans who are in need, and the volunteers of the non-profit organization Gather Baltimore.
Gather Baltimore provides free fresh produce every Sunday. Their objective is to support homeless or low-income individuals and families in Baltimore.
One of the volunteers is Luke Cooper. Luke, with his black skin and shaved head, t-shirt and jeans, is joyful and wearing a wide smiling while he sets up tables across the width of the grassy lawn where the Gather Baltimore volunteers unite every Sunday. The tables stretch on for about thirty feet.
In minutes, a large truck drives onto the lawn, parking slowly behind the large table assembly line. Soft cheers are heard as the truck arrives. The gray-bearded driver of the vehicle steps out and slides open the large back door.
“Don’t just stand there, help carry all this!” shouts the bearded man.
Luke and the other volunteers get right to work. The truck is full of many crates of fresh produce, which Gather Baltimore will begin distributing in just a few moments. The time for chatter has ended, and Luke and the twenty-some other volunteers are taking the crates and placing them near the tables, organizing the contents thoroughly and getting them ready for handing out. Luke is moving fast to and from the truck, and upon placing down one heavy crate he wipes some sweat from his brow. The day is hot, but in knowing that his efforts make a big difference, Luke continues to wear his bright smile.
The tables get properly set up, a thirty foot line of fresh produce, all for whoever in Baltimore comes by asking for it. No one in the crowd waiting to pick up the food is impatient, and each person waiting is assigned a number by another volunteer. Luke takes his place in the distribution assembly line and watches, ready for the rush.
Even with all the food right in front of them, the crowd is as peaceful as ever, still sharing friendly conversation and clearly appreciating the warmth of the day. One of the volunteers steps to the front of the line. She shouts, “Numbers one through twenty!”
Various members of the crowd come forward. Luke keeps his smile on and starts making a difference.
Isaac Supports His Family
Isaac Livingston walks down the vacant lot to the nearest tree on Bond Street where the event Gather Baltimore is being held; head down and shoulders slumped. His face is covered with sweat due to the hot morning sun. He stands underneath the large, old tree. The truck is tall, twice his height and it gives him necessary shade. People walk around him; seeing through his checkered blue and gray sweater. Somehow they have a sense of why he is here, but at the same time have no idea. He wanders on, keeping his head lowered while making his way to the line and waits patiently for his number to be called.
“This is my second time at Gather Baltimore,” Livingston said as he looks at the eager faces around him. “I just lost my job and this event helps supplement much needed food for my family.”
It’s approaching 1 p.m. and the volunteers are setting up the tables with fresh green and red apples, bananas, zucchini, corn, blueberries and lettuce to name a few. Everyone waiting in line has a number; this time Livingston has number 20.
“The first time I came, I was late,” Livingston peacefully says. “Most of the stuff was gone when I arrived, but the volunteers still found something to give me which was a box of tortilla chips. They told me when to get here the next time so I can have more options.”
At this moment, the dynamic is starting to change among everyone. Every solemn face is now chipper and resurrected as the produce is being placed on the tables, and the volunteers are moving swiftly to get everything ready. It has now been 30 minutes for the set up and the line is getting longer, wrapping around two blocks.
“I think the volunteering here is quite excellent compared to other things I have seen in Baltimore,” says Livingston while beaming a smile. “They are very organized and they communicate very well. This is free and starting next week we are going to have to start paying for the bags which I don’t have any problem with because they actually give away good produce.”
A bald man with a long gray beard and tattoos jumps into the driver seat of the big truck that holds all of the food and moves it away from the tables.
“We are opening up now,” shouted one of the volunteers wearing dark black shades and a Baltimore Ravens jersey. Her Afro blew in the wind as she guides everyone to form a complete line.
“Numbers 1-20 make your way up?” she directed.
As he holds he spot of number 20, Livingston rushes to the table with his bag in his hand. He gathers up bundles of fresh corn and bananas.
“It’s a sad thing to be honest because this is a positive event, and I have never seen it on the news or in the newspaper,” says Livingston. “In my opinion, it’s one of the bright spots of Baltimore. Baltimoreans are helping each other, supporting each other and trying to make things better.”
“I never realized how many resources are out here until I became in need,” Livingston said while trying to block the sun out of his eyes. “The best advice that I can give is to never give up.”
As Livingston walks away with is bag of food, he picks up his phone to call his girlfriend who is expecting their first child. He explains to her how thankful he is that they now have some fresh food for the week.
A Couple that Volunteers Together, Stays Together
The sun is hot, giving a vibe of happiness and positivity. A young couple is standing behind the rectangular shaped table underneath a white tent to block the beaming sun. The table is filled with fresh zucchini and a bowl of pancake mix. The griddle iron is turned on high and the tall man with dark shades holding a black spatula, flips over the golden brown zucchini pancake.
“We’ve been volunteering with Gather Baltimore for a year,” says Nick Culbertson. “A lot of people take the produce and not know what to do with it so Kim came up with the idea of doing a showcase of demonstrations to help people understand what to do with the produce they get.”
An onlooker comes to their table and asks to try a sample of the zucchini pancake.
“This is so delicious,” says an excited woman with long brown dreadlocks hanging all the way down to her lower thighs.
“I’ll give you another piece, but don’t tell anyone,” Kim Culbertson replies as she hands the woman a piece of zucchini on a white napkin.
“I love it, I love it,” shouts the woman.
As the woman walks from the table, Kim glances over at Nick and smiles as she stirs the next batch of the greenish, brown pancake mix.
Nick says, “One weekend we had a lot of winter squash to give.”
“No, it was butternut squash,” Kim, who has been married to Nick for 4 years, calmly replied.
“Right!” says Nick as his voice gets louder as a big box white truck goes by. “People didn’t know what to do with this. The next week we came back with a hot stove, steamed it with some ginger and lime and then gave it out. People would try it and say it was wonderful.”
Looking down at the table while the fumes of zucchini filled his nostrils, a young boy in attendance at the event wearing a burgundy and plaid shirt comes over to the table with his hand stretched out.
“Thank you,” he replies, while waving at Kim and Nick.
“We see our role as a minor educational part but also a fun part,” Nick chimes in. “It is annoying to wait in line for a long time and not be entertained. We try to talk to people and give them a little snack while they wait.”
Looking over at Nick, Kim replies, “our biggest fans are the kids.”
As the couple takes time and care in cutting the pancake slices, the sun shines brighter and radiates their faces. The most rewarding part of their efforts is knowing that the food is not going to waste.
As more people come to the table, the smiles appear and an abundance of thank you fills the air.