Character: Build It Here
No Worries at Checkout
Have you ever been in line at the grocery store and the person at the checkout does not have enough money to pay? You’ll watch as they carefully sort out items to leave behind: keep the milk, leave the juice; keep the eggs, leave the ham; keep the toilet paper, leave the Kleenex.
I came across a story, “What I Learned After Taking a Homeless Mother Grocery Shopping.” The writer, Brook McLay, is a woman who recently moved from suburbia to a city, and suddenly became acutely aware of the homeless. The mothers with children really got to her. So one day, she decided to approach one and ask, “Can I take you grocery shopping?”
The homeless mom is described as “blonde and pretty, with sparkly eye shadow and faded jeans” with two adorable daughters, ages four and six, at her side. Brook McLay explained that she is a writer and will be taking photographs and publishing the story of their trip to the store. This was fine with the homeless woman.
What unfolds as you read the story is an account of human compassion. You feel the tenderness between the women and the young girls. Here’s an excerpt from the story:
“I’m in Crisis Housing, so no lock or key for our stuff. Everything we own is in the wagon; it has to go everywhere with us or it gets stolen.” As she spoke, she swept one daughter up into the shopping cart and tucked the other’s hair into place before grabbing her hand.
“No problem, here you go.” I opened my wallet and handed her $50, trying to keep her comfortable by being quick. But it felt wrong, too impersonal.
Now it was me apologizing: “I’m sorry. This feels weird. I just want you to get anything you need. I’ll snap a few photos, and then we’ll be done.”
She gratefully accepted the cash, tucking it gently into her purse.
“Here’s the thing,” she explained. “We can’t have anything perishable in the shelter. So, the girls never get enough fruits or vegetables. We don’t have a stove or a fridge. I don’t want you to think I’m buying bad things. I just don’t have a way to keep the good things.”
I promised her there were no expectations. I just wanted her to have $50 without food-stamp restrictions. A spree without worry.
The first thing the homeless mom puts in the cart is fresh produce: a bag of apples, a couple of peaches, a few cherries, and a golden bell pepper. Then she goes down the aisles to get the non-perishables: two cans of refried beans; a can of ravioli; three containers of dehydrated noodle soup; a can of pears; a can of Vienna sausages, etc. - the standard survival food of the poor.
At the checkout it all rang up to $68.68. The homeless mother instinctively began to set aside what she could live without. McLay stepped right in and told her that it was okay. She could take it all home.
Next time you’re at the grocery store, you might notice a young mother or an elderly person in a frayed sweater carefully putting items in the cart and putting some back on the shelf. If you can, stop to tell them that you can take them through checkout and relieve their worries for that day. And don't forget to drop a few chocolate bars in the cart.