I took personal interest in the story about Ashley Jiron, a restaurant owner who noticed that someone had been going through her garbage. She posted a note on the dumpster for whoever had eaten out of her garbage to come into P B Jams and get a decent meal. I admire her empathy and her courage. She offered a meal to someone who many of us would consider scary, a possible addict or psychotic. But even addicts and psychotics need to eat in order to live, and if they can manage to live then there is hope that one day they can dig themselves out of the garbage.
I was also struck by this story because I recently published a novel, The Second Crack, in which Anne, a coffee house owner, leaves Bicycle Bob a sack lunch on top of her dumpster.
“Through the window in the back door, I saw him rip open the garbage bag, pull out a piece of bagel and stuff it into his mouth. Then he dug around looking for more food, spilling banana peels and eggshells all over the ground, which I knew I’d have to clean up. When he shoved a chunk of quiche covered in coffee grounds into his mouth, my stomach lurched. You read about people eating out of dumpsters all the time, but it’s different watching someone eat your garbage. And there was something about his face, the bluish hollow below his cheekbones; that got to me.
The next morning I peered out the window, waiting for him. Sun glinted off the dumpster’s new silver lock. On top of the lid, I’d left a brown sack. Inside was a ham and cheese sandwich on whole wheat, chips, and a pear. A few minutes later Bob rode up on a rusted-out, baby blue bicycle with silver stripes and no back fender... With a brown-toothed grin, he tore open the sack, flipped open the sandwich, nodded, then shoveled it into his mouth. The pear he consumed in five bites, core and all. But he put the potato chips into the wire basket that was duct taped to the handle bars… I went back to work, satisfied that he wouldn’t starve and he couldn’t make himself sick on my garbage.”
Anne feeds Bob the same food she serves her customers, just like Ashley.
I have a friend who used to live in San Francisco and every morning when she walked to work she encountered panhandlers. Not wanting to give them money to feed their habit, she decided to hand out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Most of the time she was met with gratitude.
I think of the humble PB and J sandwich and how its role in feeding the hungry can be heroic. For those of you who think these people don’t deserve a sandwich, I ask — who benefits if somebody starves?