Mary Jo Copeland greets people Oct. 19 as they enter before breakfast at Sharing & Caring Hands, the food kitchen and charity organization that Copeland founded and runs in Minneapolis. (Jenn Ackerman for The Washington Post)
By Mary Jo Copeland, founder of Sharing & Caring Hands, a food kitchen and charity in Minneapolis. Her story, told to Eli Saslow, was published in the Washington Post.
There’s always a line. The line gets longer. I wake up at 4 in the morning to start helping these families, but this pandemic never rests. I’ve been doing this work for 40 years, and I’ve never seen pain like there is right now. People come here from all over Minnesota because they’ve lost their jobs, their homes, their savings — their dignity. They’re carrying around the hurt of what’s been done to them. They’ve got nothing but anger, sadness and fear.
I had a lady show up the other day, another first-timer. Her life was falling apart in a hundred ways, and she started going on to me about this virus and all the protests happening downtown. She was obsessing over this presidential election. She said: “I’m terrified right now. It feels like I’m watching the whole world come unglued.”
I told her: “Okay, then stop watching. What’s something you can do?”
I’ve always tried to think like that. I’m not saying I don’t have my own anxieties. I’m 78, and this virus has already set me back in a lot of ways. I’ve lost more this year than ever, but what good have negativity and fear ever done for people? Nothing. Zero. You can waste your whole life as one endless complaint. Okay, yes, this country has big problems. But who do you think is going to solve them? It’s up to us. I believe in perpetual motion. Do something. Do something! If you see something that needs to be changed, try changing it. If you see somebody who needs help, help them. People act like that’s saintly, but shouldn’t it be basic? Why isn’t it basic?
We’re a one-stop shop to help the poor. We try to give people whatever they need: food, clothes, furniture, dental, housing assistance, money to pay their bills. We’ve been open every day since this virus hit, but it seemed like the rest of the city pretty much closed. I don’t accept government funds, which means I’m free from some regulations. We were the only place left serving meals downtown. We had five or six hundred people lining up to eat, and what am I going to do? Stay at home because I’m afraid I might get sick? Send people away if they aren’t wearing a mask? Come on. These people barely had the luxury to worry about a virus. They were jobless. They were homeless. They had nothing to eat, and they weren’t getting their food stamps because the county had shut down. I promised them: “I will not close.” We served something like 8,000 meals that first week, and it’s gone on from there.
Some days, there are 200 people waiting to see me by the time I get in to work. Each one has an emergency. I open the doors and greet everyone as they come in. I ask their names and listen to their stories. Continue reading