People’s Place, indeed

With apologies to my more fervent readers, I was off-line for a week. Or was it two? Time has a way of slipping away when you have nothing to do. And with Covid-19 front and center every day, ordinary politics, which is what I do, seems beyond banal. If former Republican county chairman Pete Savago and Marlborough legislator Frank Felicello hadn’t died last week, I might not have produced anything at all. And to think there was a time- a long, long time- when I knocked out three columns a week and five editorials for the Freeman. Back then, I had editors lashing me to the mast.

Fortunately, I was roused from my torpor by Kingston’s People’s Place. A polite young People’s representative called me about 10 days ago and asked if I’d be interested in delivering food to shut-ins. “I understand you know the city pretty well,” he said. (Did he notice I wasn’t writing much?) He explained the program, asked a few questions about my health and availability and signed me up.

I arrived at 10 a.m. at People’s Place headquarters in mid-town with about eight other volunteer drivers. This, I quickly ascertained, was a well-planned, well-oiled operation. Basic food supplies in bags and boxes were packaged on skids with the names of individuals or families at specific addresses. Drivers were given corresponding slips with names, addresses and phone numbers in fairly contiguous areas. Drivers were committed to no more than two and a half hour shifts, though mine took considerably less time.  I drive a convertible and there’s barely enough room in the trunk for a set of golf clubs.

The People’s Place volunteers I met at the staging area were friendly, helpful and grateful to volunteers for stepping forward. But that was nothing compared to the response I got when delivering packages to home-bound families.

Not to brag, because real volunteers don’t brag, but I’ve done a lot of volunteering during the more than 50 years I’ve lived in Kingston. But in retrospect, it was more like “checkbook volunteering” (donating money or goods to good causes) or “committee volunteering” (sitting on boards of directors for this non-profit organization or that). Not to say those kinds of volunteers aren’t absolutely necessary to a well-functioning community, but in truth, I didn’t get to meet most of the people I and fellow board members and check-writers were trying to help.

This was different. I met people on their front porches, in their doorways, sometimes in their kitchens, like when a frail old lady couldn’t manage a 40-pound package of pasta, soup, vegetables and fruit. They were so grateful, like I was paying for this stuff myself.

Some, shut-ins with only a TV or a pet for company, just wanted to chat for a bit. One woman worried that her “beautiful” 14-year-old daughter would eat nothing but Burger King hamburgers. Having raised a MacDonald’s hamburger addict, I advised patience, that like most things about teens, that too would pass. “But, I’ve got five other kids to worry about!” she said.

I probably delivered 30 food packages on my Monday to Friday shift and not once did I hear anyone complain about the kind of food they were getting or if it was enough. One man I met on the sidewalk in front of a delivery asked about getting into the program. I directed him to People’s Place.

About People’s Place. Like many, my family and friends have donated money and clothing to this most worthwhile organization. But before working with the Place as a volunteer, I couldn’t’ appreciate what an efficient, responsive organization it is. And how grateful recipients are for their services. Kudos to director Christine Hein and her able staff.

Energizer bunny Christine, as evidenced by her building People’s Place from a neighborhood mom-and -pop operation to a county-wide staple that reliably feeds thousands of people every day, has achieved considerable merit in her own name. Pre-People’s Place, she was probably better known as former county executive Mike Hein’s wife. Not to tweak the former exec, but given Christine’s record and community impact, maybe we should have run her for county executive in 2008.

As for me, Monday morning’s almost here and I have deliveries to make.