Posts Tagged ‘neighbors’

Photo: Natalie Alcoba.
Gerardo Romero and Flor Yciz donate the gift of time to the nonprofit Parque Lezama Olla Popular, preparing
a meal they serve each week to those in need in Buenos Aires, Feb. 6, 2023.

One thing that struck my husband when he returned from over a year of working in China was that Americans do a lot of volunteering. His perception of China at that time was that the government did everything and that citizens didn’t often take it on themselves to help others less fortunate.

Christian Science Monitor reporter Erika Page notes that Argentinians, too, aren’t known for helping strangers, but that young people are leading the way in tough inflationary times.

“Every Tuesday evening,” she writes, “as streetlights flicker on in downtown Buenos Aires, a man named Charlie tidies a section of sidewalk, preparing for his visitors.

“Charlie lives on the street. The volunteers who regularly check in on him as part of their recorrida nocturna, or night route, are an emotional lifeline.

“The team of six sit with Charlie in a semi-circle on the pavement, offering juice, yerba mate, and conversation. They chat about the weather, current events, the neighbors, and when the laughter lulls, they ask Charlie about more immediate concerns, like his health, upcoming medical appointments, and how the police have been treating him.

“There are thousands of people like Charlie living on the streets across the capital, and 43% of the country’s population lives in poverty. It’s a reflection of the unrelenting economic crisis and sky-high inflation that’s enveloping this South American nation. Some 600 volunteers take part in these nightly visits organized by the nonprofit Fundación Sí, underscoring a growing movement of volunteers, fueled by young people, who are working to fill the void where government services and the labor market are falling short. 

“These volunteers may not be well off – or even interested in staying in Argentina long-term – but they offer whatever they can to lift their neighbors up: a hand, an ear, a meal, or simply some of their time. Argentina isn’t known for high rates of volunteerism, but recent data shows that’s changing.

A study published by Voices! Consultancy found that a record 36% of Argentines volunteered last year, including nearly 60% of people between 18 and 24 years old.

“Generosity of time and affection is generally reserved for family and close friends in Argentina, says Constanza Cilley, executive director of Voices! Consultancy. But, ‘there are significant increases [in volunteering] in times of greatest crisis,’ she says. …

“Last year, annual inflation reached 94.8%, sending food prices soaring, and making saving nearly impossible. Most young people no longer expect a higher standard of living than their parents in a country whose social mobility was once a point of national pride. That can cause internal conflict for those who want to do good here. …

“Emilia Maguire, a therapist, has considered emigrating for years, tired of the poverty she can no longer ignore – and which she sees as a reflection of distorted political and economic priorities. She recently joined Fundación Sí’s night routes.

“ ‘Sometimes I get home tired and distressed,’ says Ms. Maguire. ‘But when you connect with things like this that are gratifying, it’s easier to get by, because your focus shifts.’ …

“The Voices! study found a correlation between volunteering and general satisfaction. Some 23% of respondents who said they volunteered last year indicated Argentina as the best place for them to live, compared to only 14% of non-volunteers.

“The group got their start in 2018 with close to nothing, as the value of the Argentine peso began to plummet once again. They’ve since acquired a gas stove and donations from businesses and farmer’s collectives. They invite those who come to eat to help cook as part of the team. …

“ ‘The crisis itself pushes people together, uniting in empathy,’ says Carmela Pavesi, an organizer in her mid-20s. ‘You don’t need a lot of money or a lot of things,’ she says. ‘With the people you have nearby, wherever you are, you can do something with what you have.’ …

“ ‘Today there are more people living on the streets, more people in need, more people begging for money or help,’ says Eduardo Donza, a researcher with the Social Debt Observatory at the Universidad Católica de Argentina.

“The country’s poverty is structural and historic, says Mr. Donza, in large part due to a precarious labor market. Only 35% of the population works in the formal private sector, another 15% in the public sector, leaving half the population doing informal work. …

“ ‘If we don’t generate more wealth, if we can’t create more good jobs, we’re never going to come out of this,’ he says. Volunteering can’t solve these wider issues on its own. ‘But it seems to me like solidarity has increased. That willingness to help matters.’ “

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Suzanne’s Mom.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
“That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
“And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
“And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. …”

I was going to make some pompous observations about old-time walls meant to clarify property lines, not keep people out or prevent neighborly conversations. But then I read a merciless spoof of bloggers trying to be profound. So I decided just to show you how cleverly these old dry walls were built to last, smaller stones tucked into gaps to keep higher ones balanced.

The spoof was in a strange, delightful novel called Winter, by Ali Smith. And although I bristled at the unproofread mess of her fake blog post, I recognized the temptation to invent or reinterpret something from childhood because … who will know the difference?

But I must stay honest, like the old, sturdy dry walls. They were not the kind that blow over in a high wind as the one in this 2020 story: “A portion of [the] border wall blew over from gusty winds Wednesday, falling on the Mexican side of the border.

“The newly installed panels were a part of an ongoing project to improve existing parts of the wall in Calexico, California. Agent Carlos Pitones of the Customs and Border Protection in El Centro, California, told CNN that the new concrete foundation had not yet cured when the wall panels fell down amid windy conditions.”

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Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Craig and Bobby Giurleo carried wreaths out of their shop for customers. Millbrook Farm, family run for generations, was badly wounded this year by a construction road closure. Then some caring neighbors organized a
cash mob.

Six years ago I participated in a cash mob to help a longtime family-run five and dime threatened with bankruptcy. (My post on that.) I was only one of many who bought a lot of great stuff that day, and I’m happy to say the shop is still going.

Recently, another group of local well-wishers did something similar for a family-run farm, where summer and fall sales had gone down 90 percent thanks to an unconscionable road closure.

Deanna Pan wrote at The Boston Globe, “To reach Millbrook Farm from Boston, you must go out of your way. Take Route 2 west into historic Concord, past thickets of snow-drenched woods and picturesque Colonials. If you know where you’re going, you’ll find it, after a series of right turns, tucked back on the Cambridge Turnpike before the road abruptly closes to anyone passing through.

“The family-run nursery — which specializes in flowers and hanging plants in the spring, pumpkins and mums in the fall, and Christmas trees and wreaths in the winter — has survived its share of troubles.

“Sal Giurleo, 80, the brusque family patriarch, started the business 31 years ago, following in the footsteps of his father, an Italian immigrant who grew vegetables for First National grocery stores in the 1940s and ’50s. …

“When construction began on the Cambridge Turnpike this spring, sales at Millbrook Farm plummeted. Although part of the turnpike remained open, roadwork made it virtually impassable. Construction vehicles and machinery frequently blocked both lanes. Until recently, the road was dug up and unpaved. …

Shaun Giurleo, 50, Sal’s youngest son, estimates that by midsummer and fall, sales had plunged 90 percent.

“At their lowest point, they saw no more than one customer a day. Sal had to take out two loans, totaling $52,000, to keep the business afloat. They had no choice but to sell their flowers and plants wholesale at a fraction of the price they would normally charge their customers. …

“The Giurleos prepared for a tight Christmas. Sal worried he would have to take out another loan and sink deeper into debt. He was determined to stay open, no matter the cost. In late November, news of the Giurleo family’s plight proliferated across Facebook, Nextdoor, and e-mail as residents of Concord and beyond urged their friends and neighbors to patronize the struggling Millbrook Farm. …

“The Giurleos’ Christmas miracle arrived early, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Millbrook Farm was unusually busy for a weekday, which Shaun thought was odd. But nothing could have prepared the Giurleos for what happened on the Friday after the holiday. From 9 a.m. until sundown, cars parked up and down the turnpike, as many as 20 at time. The crowds were unlike anything they’d ever seen, driving from as far as Natick and Saugus.

“It was the busiest day in Millbrook Farm’s history. Shaun guesses they sold between 350 and 400 Christmas trees, about half their lot. Saturday was even busier. … At least 10 customers paid for two trees when they only took home one. Another customer asked the Giurleos to charge him $500 for a single tree. …

“ ‘We had a million people here. We weren’t ready. We didn’t know,’ Sal said later, chuckling, …

“Millbrook Farm is now replenishing its inventory with help from other garden centers and wholesalers in the region.

“Inside the storefront [in December], an ebullient Shaun worked the cash register. Despite the weather, the nursery was humming with customers, picking up vibrant wreaths that Shaun had carefully decorated with handmade bows and other baubles, and whatever trees were left until Sal’s shipment arrived.

“The Giurleos won’t recoup all of their losses from the past year, but their business will survive until the next season. Thanks to the influx of sales, Sal immediately paid off his debts.” More here.

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Photo: Bobby Bascomb
Farmers Domingo and Nilsa Romano are grateful for the physical and emotional support of the volunteers with the NGO El Departamento de la Comida in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico never received the level of help it needed from the federal government after Hurricane Maria, but neighbors and volunteers pitched in to help. In my post from December, I quoted Public Radio International’s inspiring story on women farmers cooperating to make a comeback. A Living on Earth report from September 2018 shows volunteers helping out a range of small farmers.

BOBBY BASCOMB: “Even before hurricane Maria uprooted trees and people, Puerto Rico imported roughly 85% of its food. After the storm, that number shot up to about 95% imported food, if you could get it. Many people were forced to skip meals and eat … canned food for months. Nine months after the storm, one of the only places to find locally grown food on the island is farmers markets like the Saturday market in Rincon. …

“Sonia Carlo’s nearby farm is slowly recovering from the storm. Today she’s brought pineapple, papaya, mushrooms, and the kale she’s explaining to a customer. … Sonia says things are just starting to turn around for her family and the farm. They are finally harvesting again and her farm-to-table restaurant, Sana, opened just a few weeks ago. But hurricane Maria was devastating for them. The storm destroyed her home. She had to send her three children to Florida to live with family while she and her husband, living in their car, rebuilt the battered farm.”

SONIA CARLO: “We got really trashed. All of our production for years of tropical trees like mango trees and passion fruit trees, they all died and they all were blown away. We had trees that were a hundred years old. … Since the hurricane was a cyclone, it brought some salt water and some sand with it, so everything that was in its path, it looks like you threw herbicide.” …

BASCOMB: “Across the island tall fruit trees were the most heavily damaged food crop. Root vegetables that could hide underground did OK. Ground plants like pineapples were among the first to recover and fast growing vegetables like salad greens were easy enough. After the hurricane visitors came to Puerto Rico with their suitcases full of seeds to donate to farmers. Sonia says they actually could have started growing again relatively quickly.”

CARLO: “But since we didn’t have any electricity, we couldn’t pump water out and we didn’t have any gas, so we were unable to grow food because we don’t have gas to pull out the water from the water pump.” …

BASCOMB: “To understand why this lush tropical island with year round sunshine and rain imports nearly all of its food you need to go back to the 1940s and a US initiative called Operation Bootstrap. … Adnelly Marichal is the documentarian for the Resilience Fund in Puerto Rico. She says Operation Bootstrap transformed Puerto Rico from a largely agrarian economy to one based on manufacturing and tourism. They did that with a patchwork of government tax incentives and access to US markets. The farming that remained was not on the household level but on a larger, industrial scale.”

ADNELLY MARICHAL: “Now suddenly, it’s about making money so therefore you need to grow things like sugar and coffee, and that’s great, but those are not things that people can eat.”

In Las Marias, up in the mountains on the western half of the island, Farmer Domingo Antonio Romano, 75, runs a small farm with his wife, Nilsa.

BASCOMB: “Root vegetables like yams were really the only food crops that didn’t get torn away by the 155 mile an hour winds of Hurricane Maria. They were one of the only food crops the Romanos could still harvest and eat after the storm. … Domingo and his neighbors still had months to go before the roads would be cleared or the electricity restored. He says in that time they came to rely on each other for help.” …

DOMINGO ANTONIO ROMANO: “After Maria, the trees came down and we could see our neighbors and we got to know each other. After the hurricane, there was a lot of empathy between the people, and everybody helped each other.” …

BASCOMB: “Five volunteers from a grassroots non-profit group called El Departamento de la Comida, the Food Department, are here to camp out on the farm for a week and do any work that needs to be done: clear land, plant crops, fix fences and repair the roof. The volunteer Food Department is organized into groups called brigades and are dispatched all over the island. As many as 20 people at a time descend on a farm for a week bringing with them seeds, tools, building supplies, and the man power to get a farm back up and running.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

Video: The Puerto Rico Resilience Fund

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Jay Walljasper appeared recently in the Christian Science Monitor (by way of Shareable). Designated one of The Monitor‘s “change agents,” he has written about ways to build a sense of community in a book called The Great Neighborhood Book.

Walljasper believes that “providing people with ways to come together as friends, neighbors, and citizens creates a firm foundation that enables a neighborhood to solve problems and seize opportunities.

“The neighborhood is the basic building block of human civilization, whether in a big city, small town, or suburban community. It’s also the place where you can have the most influence in making a better world.”

Tips are provided here.

My own neighborhood has block parties on an annual basis. It hasn’t led to solving any major problems, although we did manage to get a rabid raccoon carted away not long ago. Even though most of us meet only once a year, I think we would help one anther if there was a disaster.

Pictures of Sunday’s convivial block party are below, followed by a photo of neighbors somewhere else actually working together on a project. That kind of collaboration probably produces deeper bonding.






















Photograph below by Manuel Valdes/AP/File
Two volunteers hold the top of a spiral slide being installed at a neighborhood park in Kent, Wash., in 2011.

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