“She was one of the few who has ever been asked to not come back. I mean, how do you get kicked out of a Catholic church?”

Just before Elizabeth got called up to get food at Ithaca Kitchen Cupboard, her friend Rob walked in. She introduced me to him, and I explained to him what we had just talked about – the abundance of resources for the food insecure in Ithaca. These brochures, photographed above, that provide information about community resources in Ithaca, are just a few of the many displayed.

“Oh, it’s amazing, there’s a food pantry open every single day of the week. You can even get a meal seven days a week as long as you’re willing to behave yourself”, he said laughing. He shared a story that happened at a Catholic church that provides free meals. “One time, someone from out of town was stealing phones. She was one of the few who has ever been asked to not come back. I mean, how do you get kicked out of a Catholic church?” (“Well, stealing”, Elizabeth answered.)

As we were all shaking our heads and laughing from Rob’s story, I mentioned that there seems to be a great sense of security for the food insecure in Ithaca.

“You’re really grateful you don’t have to figure it out. You [can] do what works for you.” Rob has a friend who doesn’t go to the food pantries because he’s sixty-some years old and can’t bring the bags uphill back to his house. He doesn’t have a car or money for the bus, and he’s not going to hurt his back carrying bags of groceries when he can get three free meals a day. “It’s interesting how people can live here for so many years and not work.”

Could that be harmful to them, or to the community?

You can’t really say. “There’s so many people here and you don’t know what’s going on inside them.”

Rob gave an example:

some homeless people can’t get up in the middle of the day to go to work. They stay up all night long, looking for a place to sleep, and finally, during the day, when they find a nice, quiet place, they just stay there to sleep. They wake up in the middle of the day, and they don’t want to leave.

Rob shared another story from when he used to work at a restaurant in Collegetown. There was a guy who worked there one day a week, cleaning, when everyone else had the day off. He worked for credit (for food), not pay, so “you know, he got to take the family out for a meal each week. And I saw him at the food pantry every week. No doubt.”

He continued by asking me if I’ve ever been to Loaves and Fishes. I shook my head no.

“It’s an interesting social dynamic.” A lot of people know each other, and have “watched people grow and watched people grow old.” There’s a deep rooted sense of community and neighborly love.

The “massive” community gardens in Ithaca are also examples of collaborative opportunities that foster a sense of community. “Say you and I and a few other people buy multiple plots of land, each. One person can grow tomatoes; another can grow corn.” Even if you garden independently, you might still work with others. Community gardens educate about companion planting; “don’t grow this plant next to another person’s plot because of weeds.”

But community doesn’t have to be that intentional. “You have fellowship; you know everyone.” Rob knows a guy who’s lived in Ithaca for over fifteen years. His friend knows all of the landlords who own the buildings around him. If he’s travelling, he doesn’t need to ask the post office to hold his mail for him. “He can say to his neighbor, ‘Oh, I’m going to be out of town for a while, would you get my mail for me?” Or if the garbage and recycling need to be taken out, he can ask his neighbors to take it out for him. In return, he can go out and help his neighbor. Say his neighbor bought a TV and is struggling to get it from the car into the house. “He’ll just run outside and say, ‘Let me help you with that, I just need to put some shoes on’.”

This friend never locks the door, either, and he never has. His friend’s son knows that the door is always unlocked, too. If his son comes to visit, “and the door is locked, then something’s wrong.

There’s a sense of security because everyone is very friendly.”

Rob is also a musician, and he used to live in a house with other musicians. “You’d see musicians carrying amps and all this equipment in and out of the house. We never locked the door. Never had a problem; never had an issue.”

Earlier on, Rob had asked the other musicians, “You don’t lock the door?”. But there’s no point – the windows don’t close and are at ground level, so even if the door was locked, someone could come in through the window. “And they don’t close the windows, because ‘how’s the cat going to come in and out’?”


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