fresh fruit fund

by bam

blueberries go on sale today for $1.88 a pint at my grocery store. cantaloupes will be flying off the crates at a mere 99 cents each.
so, like i always do in the juicy months, the summer months, i’ll probably grab a few of each, dump ’em in a bowl, put ’em out for breakfast. think little of it, ’cept how juicy it all looks. you might do the same at your house.
but what if we couldn’t? what if the stores near where we lived didn’t sell fruit? didn’t put it on sale in the juicy months because there was no fruit. they never sold it. on sale, or otherwise.
what if you’re a kid named jerry and you’re 11 and you used to live in a place called cabrini-green, a famous place around chicago, a sad place, because it was full of poor black folks and kids who grew up knowing to dive for cover when the gunshots broke the thick night air, or, worse, you once saw someone stagger in your apartment door, shot in the gut, and you watched him writhe, then die, right there on your front-room floor?
and what if someone decided to do away with cabrini-green, filled the air with promise but then let you–and thousands of others–down, down as a flat old bicycle tire, the kind you’ve never ridden anyway, and instead of letting you stay in the place you knew, the place where you and your mama and your mama’s mama grew up, they dumped you miles away in a place called englewood, a place that ends up being even worse, way worse?
and what if, down in englewood, there are no stores where, even if you wanted, even if you had a taste for blueberries in summer–or even a plain old dumpy apple–you couldn’t get any, not even one?
because the only store you could get to you call “the chip store,” because it sells, well, like 20 kinds of chips. and pop. but no blueberries. and no apples. and not a single banana even. no fruit. none.
but luckily–blessedly–jerry is a friend of my friend mary beth. so is a kid named william, who is 7.
my friend mary beth, who for years and years has been friends with jerry’s aunt and william’s cousin, who actually was a true big sister in ways that would leave you jaw-dropped at her humongous heart and her facile mind, is now pretty much the fruit lady of englewood.
oh, that’s not official. it just is. it’s what she does.
every weekend, my friend mary beth, who lives way north, along the lake, but in uptown, and who works all week in philadelphia, because she’s a nurse and she’s running the cardiology department at children’s hospital of philadelphia, and she’s been flying back and forth between philly and chicago every week for a couple years now, well, she spends half her weekend getting fruit for jerry and william and whoever else is there, is hungry, when she makes her fruit drop.
she gets up on saturday morning, heads out to costco, buys huge cartons of strawberries–you can really get a lot for 5 bucks, she tells me–and as much as she can carry of whatever else looks good. and juicy.
then she drives down to englewood, drives down to where, just a year or so ago, jerry was out running down the sidewalk with a friend, a little friend, a friend who i think was maybe 9, and jerry heard a pop, and then his friend was down. his friend died. right there on the sidewalk. right next to jerry. it was the sixth violent death that jerry had witnessed in one long year of his short sad life.
that’s where mary beth brings the crates of strawberries. and maybe blueberries too, this weekend. maybe she too can get a super deal at costco, when she shows up this saturday, fixing for her fruit run.
my friend mary beth is the sort of soul who has taken my breath away as long as i have known her. and i’ve known her a long, long time now. nearly 30 years. she was the one who hired me, fresh out of nursing school, to work at children’s memorial right here in chicago.
she was the one, back then, who cared about what kind of food inner-city kids were eating. she cared, too, about how families worked, or didn’t work, especially when a kid was really sick. and she cared about a health care system that she saw, way before plenty of others, might not keep working, not much longer anyway, if someone didn’t get in there and start to fix the breaking parts before they flat-out broke.
but mary beth doesn’t just care about what goes on in hospitals. she cares, maybe more deeply than anyone i know, about what goes on in cities, especially parts of the city that already are flat-out broken.
and mary beth, who is the godmother to my firstborn, and here’s a big reason why, doesn’t just sit and talk about how to fix the broken city.
she gets up on saturday morning, week after week, and picks out blueberries and strawberries and peaches and melons, and maybe even a mango–more likely, a whole crate of mangoes–and drives them miles and miles to where the stores don’t sell them.
then she walks in a banged-up apartment, where jerry and william and a whole handful of other folk live, and she lays the boxes packed with fruit on the kitchen table.
because kids, all kids, especially kids who sit and fill their cheeks and their tummies with chips for breakfast and chips all day long, kids not allowed to play outside for fear, for God’s sake, that they too could fall dead to the sidewalk so instead they sit inside with those damn chips and they get what the doctors call obese, all those kids deserve a little taste of summer when it’s summertime.
and i don’t mean a sticky popsicle, though, heck, i hope they get that too.
so i had this kooky idea. not so kooky, really. what if, somehow, we all pitch in?
what if we all, all of us who pull up a chair maybe, what if we build a fund so we can send a message, to mary beth at least, but maybe even to jerry and william?
what if we can say that, damn it, no kid should be robbed of the taste of blueberries and strawberries and melon? not when they’re going on sale today at grocery stores that will never be without mounds and mounds of fruit for kids who might turn up their noses sometimes, say they’re full from too many strawberries.
what if, in some teeny tiny way, we say it’s not right that there’s a jerry, thousands and thousands of jerrys probably, who would not sink their teeth into the sweet, red, seeded flesh of a strawberry, who would not know what it is to have that blood red juice run down and off their chin, were it not for the great good soul of a mary beth who takes the time–and has the heart–to spend her saturdays plucking fruit?

sign up here, people. add your own big ideas. click over to the chair lady page, and you’ll find my email. send an email, and i’ll send details, and we will see if we can build a fresh fruit fund so there won’t be so many jerrys, or so many williams, who go without a single berry the whole year long. especially, the whole summer.