By Paul Newport
Beginning to write this post, I am eagerly awaiting responses from two of my applicants who have recently started working at Safeway. My anxiety is bubbling as I am trying to coordinate an interview with Channel 9 News, which has requested one of our hardworking, recently-placed applicants to be on camera. I do not want this ball to drop. I do not want Jubilee Jobs to miss out on this opportunity. This Coronavirus-induced Fear of Missing Out has me firmly in its grips as I literally just missed out on a delicious breakfast my wife cooked, as I am too anxious to eat. In this brief and somewhat daunting role of a producer/coordinator, I am doing what we have all had to do recently, and that is improvise, and take on new challenges within our work in order to steer the ship smoothly.
Everyday duties at our jobs may well have changed because “the everyday” has never been more unpredictable. Perhaps the only predictable item on the agenda is a thorough washing of the hands. At Jubilee Jobs, our Founder, Terry Flood has become a professional scheduler and participant of Zoom meetings. Our Executive Director, Christine Gossens has taken on the role of masked camera woman and tech support during hasty interviews with News stations. Our Volunteer Coordinator, Vince Van, has blossomed into a creative You Tube video director and our Communications Coordinator, Jordan Reaves has become an expert on discovering resources and hotline numbers for getting meals, groceries, child care and Coronavirus tests! We find ourselves taking on the roles of HR professionals, psychologists, financial advisors and general health consultants. All things we once thought we might only play on TV.
Last week I expanded my duties and stepped into the shoes of a grocery delivery driver. This called for some careful planning and of course the need for shopping. Getting a number of essentials from Harris Teeter I divided the groceries up into three bags. If money and a roomy van had been easily available to me, I would have prepared bags for a hundred applicants. But I had to limit this run to just three of my applicants who I knew to be in a particularly hard place. In this instance, unfortunately, the compassion could not be boundless.
As I was about to start the engine, my phone rang and my father’s name appeared on the screen. He was calling to inquire about whether he could pick up his coveted insulated Giant Food bag, which I had just stuffed with three gallons of milk. I told him I was using the bag for a project and would need to hold on to it for a little while. With concern in his voice, my father asked me, “You’re not in any trouble are you now, Paul?” My parents have been asking me this question since I was 12 years old. If ever I mentioned something remotely out of the ordinary then they assumed that I’d had a run-in with a bad crowd. I simply told my dad, “No.” The unfortunate truth was that we are all in trouble right now.
Eshechew’s wife answered the door at their apartment and peered out cautiously. I could hear the sound of young children in the background, and I could completely understand her nervous demeanor. I’m quite certain that in Ethiopia she’d never opened the door to find a white man in a mask, wearing surgical gloves and thrusting a strange bag towards her. It’s a miracle she didn’t taze me. And on up to Northeast I drove, suddenly realizing that I’d promised my wife I wouldn’t drive anywhere on account of me having gotten another speeding ticket. One week into my marriage and I was already being disobedient. But there was no stopping now!
I pulled up to Alisa’s house, handing over her bag as she reached out her kitchen door. Her brother, Keon waved to me from behind his sister as one waves appreciatively to the departing hero in an old western movie. I wondered for a second if it was worth putting on the cape I keep handy in the glove compartment. At Curtis’ apartment building, I was told Curtis was in the lounge and that I should take the groceries to him. And low and behold, there was Curtis, sitting in a comfy chair and watching a huge television, with a plump bag of groceries given to him by his neighbor already in his lap. Curtis gestured as if to say, “Just add the bags to the pile.” I was instantly touched by the knowledge that during this challenging ordeal, we are all somehow looking out for one another.
This is a time to find out about the hidden talents we may have. We now have the time to explore what we weren’t able to before. Perhaps a departure from our everyday duties will allow us to experience more vividly those things that occur only once in a while. One of our volunteers, John, is working to set applicants up with bank accounts so that they can receive their unemployment payments faster. The Potter’s House around the corner is now and again putting freshly prepared, delicious (and safely wrapped) food out onto their sidewalk tables for members of the community to enjoy for free. And one of our applicants, James, who tried for so long to find a job, has finally found busy and rewarding employment as a cleaner at Capital One Arena. I do not mean to suggest silver linings or blessings in disguise as this pandemic is one thing only: an eye-opening tragedy. But maybe our eyes remain open wide, maybe the script remains permanently flipped. Maybe we will create a completely new day.