by Tessa McGirk
During one of my visits to Salt and Light, there was an incident. I was helping in the Clothing Closet, as usual, when a scuffle broke out in the back corner of the room. Seconds later, a young mother came to the front desk with her child in tow and began to complain to one of the Salt and Light workers. She claimed that another client of Salt and Light was hoarding the baby clothes by taking them all off of the rack and piling them into the corner, and then proceeding to take off hangers and stuff the clothes into bags. The young mother declared that she did know the other client had already claimed the baby clothes and so began to look through them for sizes that would fit her child. As she did, the client who had supposedly claimed them already swatted at her hand and began to speak “in her native language,” as the young mother put it.
While this type of hoarding is generally not approved of, the young mother did not handle the situation with much tact. She began yelling at Salt and Light workers and swearing, and after a minute, went back into the back corner. Another argument broke out –one that was bad enough to be stopped by the head of Salt and Light. Both families were ejected from the Clothing Closet, and were warned that they must not simply take every piece of clothing, but must look at the sizes and take only those that they could use. My supervisor asked if my partner and I had seen anything, but, like all the other workers there, we only saw the aftermath.
A mí, la situación me asustó. Es la primera vez que algo malo había ocurrido cuando estuve en Salt y Light. Estaba sentada en una mesa con unos niños cuando, de repente, algunas personas empezaron a gritar. Mi primer pensamiento fue de proteger a los niños porque no sabía qué ocurría. Después de que ellos salieron, tuve dos pensamientos. El primero fue una reacción emocional: me avergoncé que no tenía la confianza en los otros humanos que no van a doler a nadie. No sé si es porque estuve en un ambiente relativamente extraño o si porque en realidad no confío en los extranjeros. Ojalá que sea la primera razón.
Mi segundo pensamiento fue que yo quiero cambiar el mundo. Suena tonto, pero es la verdad. Quiero cambiar la realidad de estas personas para que no necesiten luchar sobre algo como la ropa. Yo quiero ayudar a todo el mundo. Me siento triste cuando pienso en las situaciones cotidianas que muchas personas experimentan. Relata a los lenguajes, sí. Si nadie puede comunicar, no podemos arreglar nada. Tal vez con mis habilidades cono el español, por lo menos, yo puedo aliviar algunas luchas.
A large part of me is frustrated that the world has even let this happen: that we have allowed the world to become so uncompassionate, to fall into such disrepair, that people will fight over anything. And that sometimes, they fight because they have to. I have never experienced poverty, and, in reality, I have no way of knowing which people who arrive at Salt and Light are in true need or are just there to take advantage of free clothes. But the fact that people feel like they have to take as much as they can carry –everything– in order to sustain themselves, makes me believe that they really do need it. I have to believe that: the alternative is that people are simply greedy, willing to take from those truly in need. Whatever the reason for the altercation, I hope that someday, I will be able to handle such situations with the grace and compassion and sense of justice shown by the workers at Salt and Light. I want to be able to use Spanish to help prevent fights and to fight poverty.