I had to go have some lab work this afternoon, and never one to waste an opportunity, I popped into the Wall-to-Wall-Mart for a bit of fruit and veg before coming home.
Now our local WalMart is attached to the rest of the mall by a wide hallway which fronts the store. It’s all windows above the four foot level, and there are benches to rest on. As I came out of the WalMart, standing at the entrance to the hallway was a young woman, holding a sign.
You may not know that Calgary’s economic engine, no pun intended, is oil-fired. The price of oil has dropped from over $100 US a barrel to $36 a barrel in the last 10 months, and Calgary’s economy has done a swan dive. There are probably 40,000 unemployed people in Calgary right now. The oil companies have slashed staff to the bone, or closed altogether. Companies which serviced oil companies have collapsed. Just this last week a major national realtor closed all six of its Calgary offices. People are hurting.
But this is the first time I’d ever seen this. A pleasant, clean, well-dressed woman in her mid-30s holding a sign which said, “Please, I have 4 children. I cannot find work and I have no money for food or diapers. Any help gratefully received.” She looked straight ahead, resolute. Only desperation could have brought her to this on a bitter December afternoon.
I stopped and dug around for my wallet. Everyone was walking past her, as if she wasn’t there. All I had on me was a $5.00 bill. It wasn’t enough. I pushed my cart up to her and folded the bill into her hand. “I wish it were more,” I said, “but it’s all I have on me.”
“Thank you, thank you!” she said, “it’s... just...” and her eyes filled with tears. She brushed them away.
Another young woman approached us, “Don’t feel bad,” she said, “I’ve been in your shoes. What do you need most, right now, something that's expensive for you to buy ...”
“Diapers, size 4.”
“Got it,” the young woman answered. “Two packs, I’ll be right back.”
And another one, “Do your kids like bananas?” And a big bunch of bananas was handed over. Other food was passed to her, until she had several bags of food sitting around her.
I stood and talked to her for no more than five minutes and in that five minutes a woman handed her two $20.00 bills, someone else handed her a $50.00 bill, someone else a handful of change, a $10.00 bill, with each one was a word of encouragement or comfort. Another woman coming in said she was just starting her shopping but on learning the young woman had walked to the mall said she’d help her shop and take her home afterwards.
All of these were women, from young mothers with babies to grandmothers, but there was not a hint of censure or disapproval, nor of pity. The feeling was we are all mothers together. We all contribute to feed and care for society’s children, and sometimes any of us might need a little help.