Always Be Kind

Always be kind. We can never know the underlying causes of another’s behavior. Always save some room for redemption, for forgiveness, and for allowing ourselves and others the chance to restore our own honor.
Today at the farmers market, I was with 3 others from Marin Community Fridges gathering donated food from the farmer’s stands to take to San Rafael’s 3 community refrigerators.

A woman from a non-profit that also gathers donated food from the farmer’s stands started questioning us about who we were and what we were doing. Her vibe was accusatory and her energy was “you are on my turf.” Two non-profits had divided the market amongst themselves & each had their “territory.” Our group wasn’t part of their arrangement.

I noticed that her group had triple the number of food donations & triple the number of volunteers. They had printed aprons & fancy name tags. She said we were interfering with “organizations in need who depend on her efforts.” It’s intense to experience hostility from someone who seemingly shares a goal of getting available donated food to people who need & can use it.

After debriefing with the others I was with, we concluded that she may have been concerned that the vendors were giving us the donations that she was expecting. It was possible that the vendors weren’t distinguishing the difference between our groups. We concluded to commit to being as clear as possible with everyone we encountered by communicating who we are & what we are doing.

Something I appreciate about Marin Community Fridges is that no one is in charge, no one is encouraged to overcommit or do more than they are able, and everyone helps out as they can. We operate in pairs or groups so no one has to do anything alone or face any edgy encounters solo. Encounters like this seem to happen often given that we are simply providing food for folks who can use it, no questions asked.

I’ve been learning that it’s 100%, not my business to determine anyone’s level of need or to police how they choose to interact with food that is free & available. It’s surprising how hard that is. Some take a little & leave a lot, some take a lot & leave little, some take everything before we can even stock it. I choose to trust that people take what they need & can use. Food not wasted is a win.

Being part of a community effort that isn’t trying to be an organization is refreshing & also sometimes confusing. One thing that always impacts me deeply is the focus on caring for ourselves. There is no one in charge & each person is self-chosen to participate to the degree they determine. Any amount of success or participation is celebrated. No one is trying to solve anything larger than life or make themselves responsible for others in an unhealthy way.

I’m learning all the time how to relax into & embody this style of group. My desire (or habit) to organize, solve, and achieve is strong. My desire to be told what to do & congratulated for taking on responsibility or completing a task is also strong.

Optimizing, hacking, organizing, growing, gaining popularity…these aren’t the actions of value in this context. The buzzy tech energy that fuels so much of the Bay Area isn’t what’s valued either. Focusing on these things seems important until you see & experience that what’s really happening is individual relationships with people, with farmer’s market vendors, and with the community. It’s all happening with much more heart & authenticity than structure. It feels good.

I don’t know if it’s a better way, but it’s a different way that I enjoy more. Both organizations & leaderless, community-oriented groups have an important impact & place, I’m so grateful that the variety exists. There are so many entry points to give & receive love & food, and also there will likely never be enough, but all efforts matter & make a difference.

I wrote this so that I could help myself let go of the hard encounter with the woman who possibly felt threatened by our presence. I judged her until I acknowledged that the pathway to decolonizing ourselves is not easy or fast. I’m not innocent of her mentality or better in any way.

We are the same, we have the same goal, and we have feelings that come & go while doing the work we do around that goal. We have highs & lows, good days & bad. I can feel the kindness & compassion rising in me. It takes more work than returning hostility with defensiveness, but it feels much better.

An important moment happened at the end of the market when she offered to return our carts back to where they are stored. We ended the day with a kind gesture & I felt the softening of my heart start to happen.

The bottom line is that a lot of people experience hunger & food insecurity regularly. The message on Marin Community Fridges is “We feed each other.” I love that. I can do that. I am doing that. That’s what matters.

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