Monday, April 21, 2014

Youngstown Cash Mob Has a Spring Fling

Thanks to so many of you for coming out in March for a delicious meal of Indian cuisine at Bombay Star. Some cash mobbers had been wanting to gather together as a mob, so a few tables of us broke naan together. Mmmm, naan. I am writing this at dinner time and hoping I can go back to Bombay Star before too long.

And only a month later, it’s so warm outside! If ever there was a year when spring felt sprung, it’s this year, and it’s put us in the mood for a little something new. Luckily the April cash mob is at One Closet at a Time Boutique in Niles. Says shop owner Laura Altobelli, “One Closet is a Boutique, located in Niles on the corner of 422 & Wabash, where you will find unique inventory of jewelry, handbags, scarves, shoes & clothing!” And everything is brand new.

We have lots of men in our cash mob and occasionally they grumble (politely) that women’s clothing shops don’t carry anything for them. But this might be just the place to pick up a gift for someone special. Is she going to a wedding? Graduation? Job interview? Trip? Are you celebrating an anniversary? Birthday? Mother’s Day? If you’re not sure what she’d like, a gift certificate is always just right. 

Youngstown Cash Mob
Saturday April 26, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
2547 Wabash, Niles
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

And more happiness: that will be the day we launch the Warren/Niles/Trumbull County Cash Mob! We are thrilled that our northern businesses will get more of the attention they deserve, and we hope to catch as many cash mobs as we can. The shiny new mob is voting this week, and it’s all very exciting.

We just voted, too, and the winner of the May cash mob is Hubbard Ohio Gift Shop. This is shops within a shop, several vendors with antiques, collectibles, edibles and gifts.

We head downtown in June for Cash Mob in the City on June 14. We are getting ready to take flyers to business owners, letting them know we’re on our way. We will encourage them to have samplers that day, so you can do a bit of grazing. There are so many new businesses and also old favorites tucked into a few blocks downtown, and a growing residential community also contributes to the up vibe. The day will begin with a Color Run, and then we’ll take it from there.

I hope to see you in Niles on Saturday, in Hubbard in May and downtown in June. Meanwhile, when you need to buy something… think local!

Let’s keep growing this place.

Cash mob: like flash mob, only the singing is optional.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I Am On Food Stamps

Yesterday I stopped at Giant Eagle to pick up organic beets, oranges, oatmeal, milk, sweet potatoes and a small cart of other stuff. I scouted out the self-pay aisles, but there was only one open and the food mountain on wheels had just started. I know the checker at the quick-check lane; she’s fast and careful with my produce (a must), so feeling a little worried, I set off.

A guy I don’t know pulled his cart in behind me and made friendly small talk. Everyone was ‘up’—what a long winter that brought out the miserable in us, and this was the first day I was out without a coat. I’d found a skirt in the mending pile (score!) and was feeling quite skirty. The checker asked if all of my produce was organic. I said yes.

Then I flashed my EBT card, which I have to do if I check out with a person-stationed lane. I heard the guy behind me groan. Then my card didn’t take and she asked me to swipe it again. Then there was the total for items it doesn’t cover: deodorant and toilet paper (luxuries, of course) and by the time I was done swiping a gift card from a friend, I was undone. I slunk out muttering.

And the way my brain works, I’ve been talking to that guy in line ever since. You don’t know me, I say. I am Americorps VISTA. I am in a year of professional volunteerism (ok, that is kind of funny, but stay with me). My living allowance is $946 a month. Right. And I am strictly prohibited from any other income. So like tens of thousands of other VISTAs in active service, I qualify for food stamps. It’s part of my benefits package, to make sure I don’t starve, presumably, and I appreciate that.

But that’s just me. I could be anyone. I might have had my hours cut in half at my job, which, actually, I did, as an adjunct professor when my university limited by half the number of classes I could teach in order to keep me under the cap at which they would have to provide health insurance. Or rather, to keep me under the imagined cap, since the cap hadn’t yet been sewn. Or something. Even though I was making slightly more each month than my VISTA income, I made nothing during the summer or winter breaks, so I’ve actually qualified for food stamps for some time, I just couldn’t get them. Or I could have a child at home, or a severely disabled relative, or I could be a vet with PTSD, or really, in these hard times in this hard place I can think of so many things that might have happened to me.

You might be wondering why I’m buying organic food if I’m on food stamps. Well, I’ve thought about that, too. I believe that the way we spend our money helps shape the world we live in, and I believe in organic farming, in the good work it makes for families and the good food it makes for families. But I might have cancer, or a pesticide allergy, or another reason for buying organic. 

The way I do it is to make two big meals and eat them all week. I pack a daily lunch with one and sup on the other. And I make my own granola and my own bread. Note that there’s no packaged food, no recreational food, and little to no meat, so I save on what is missing. You wouldn’t know that this modest pile will last all week. It costs me my week’s allotment, but then I’m good to go.

But I’ve had to compromise. I’d rather be at the local shops, but they don’t take food stamps. I go to the farmer’s market, which does, and I buy at a co-op, which does, but I’m limited in what I can get right now. So I’m grateful to this grocery chain for carrying the organic foods I’m looking for.

You might think I don’t look like I should be on food stamps. But, honestly, head-to-toe that day, I was wearing resale clothes. I love thrifts because they’re local, and I can save on resource consumption, too. But even a VISTA can find a pair of dress boots at a resale. And what if I’d lost a great job, and had a closet full of great job clothes because I was looking frantically for another great job? And what if this outfit was a gift? Or the only outfit I owned?

You might think that I’m taking money away from you. But isn’t the reality that we all pay for each other’s lunch? When I patronize your business, some of my money helps you buy your lunch, and you do the same for me. And even better, food stamps takes tax money from all over America and brings it right here, to this store, where this cashier is smiling at me and telling me to have a nice day.

Which I will do. Because really, I am very lucky. I love my job, and it’s a privilege to be in a position that I can take a year to do some pretty meaningful work. Maybe Americorps wants me to know what it’s really like to struggle to make ends meet, to accept the help that’s offered me, and to find pleasure wherever I can. I have some experience in that department, but Americorps wouldn’t know that.

I still have my pride, and even though you don’t know how hard I work, I don’t like you thinking that I’m some kind of fungus living on the good, upright trunk of America. So I may still go to the automated check-out lane, which I don’t believe in, because that takes away someone’s job.

Or I may just smile at you and say, “I’m buying a little something for the kids at the orphanage,” or “Did you catch the price on that imported cheese? My food stamps won’t go that far!” or “Let’s hope the Ryan budget doesn’t pass,” or <whisper> “Organic beets are an aphrodisiac.”