Originally published as a ‘Reporters’ Notebook’ in the Ithaca Times on July 15, accompanying features on a five-day-a-week community kitchen and the GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance. Photo from a Second Wind Cottages workday, which I wrote up here.
An economics textbook would never call an organization like Loaves and Fishes or GrassRoots classic examples of “horizontal integration.”
There’s no incentive for a community kitchen to expand across the nation to control all the free lunch spots like Rockefeller’s Standard Oil eating up all the refineries in the late 1800s.
There’s far too many artists in this country for one amorphous group of music-lovers based in an office in Trumansburg’s Masonic Lodge to watch all the shows on YouTube and book all the fairgrounds. No one group can monopolize feeding the hungry, whether the nutrition they serve is soup for the stomach or music for the soul.
Yet, those who do the work for these two local institutions are very “horizontally integrated.” Both organizations have only a handful of paid staffers and absolutely could not keep going and growing without volunteer workers that come from all walks of life. And neither Loaves nor GrassRoots hold it against those who keep showing up to feed themselves and don’t take a turn at the dishwashing sink or ticket booth.
“I think the philosophy for 31 years has been we’re all in this together,” Christina Culver of Loaves told me. “We purposely don’t want to be hierarchical and say ‘Oh, here’s these great volunteers helping you, who are the needy.’”
At Loaves, that philosophy shows through as people who come there at low points start asking how they can help, and end up serving people who come in uniform or shirt and tie. And who knows how many salaried daily suit-wearers will be enjoying music and food and yoga at GrassRoots this weekend, while there are broke students and fixed-income retirees working the gates and cleaning the latrines. Taking in all comers and operating generously and freely in one place for years, this is how a daily meal or a now quarterly festival starts getting called a “sweet community,” a “tribe,” a “family.”
There’s all sorts of need in this world, and sometimes it’s dire; organizations like the Red Cross have press agents who constantly remind us that people and resources are getting sent to places around the world to help when flood and famine happen. Sending a few bucks their way via text or Facebook link is doing someone, somewhere, some good.
Every day, though, there is work to be done so that people in Tompkins County have something to eat, something to hear, something to do. Not everyone can show up to cook five times a week, or spend two weeks in July setting up tents. Looking up from the daily grind, though, surely everyone can find a few minutes to look someone in the eye and say, “What can I do to help, here, today?” •