When I was post-collegiate first-job broke, I lived out of Steve’s day-old bagel bin.
Steve owned the coffee/ice cream/pastry shop across the street from my retail job at a bookstore and he and my boss were buds. They’d hang out in each other’s places and give each other shit, and Pat paid in books for what Steve gave him in treats. If we couldn’t find somebody who worked for one of them, chances are the missing employee was in the other’s shop. It was that kind of neighborhood and, by virtue of selling used books to Pat’s customers, I was presumed to be a member of their family.
So when Steve noticed I was skinny and drinking tea from home instead of buying coffee from him, because a bill was due or a freelance check hadn’t come, he gave me a huge bag of bagels.
“Nobody will buy them if they’re more than a day old,” he said, shrugging, but he was being kind. There’s no way to tell if something’s a day old or not, he could have sold them toasted and masked their staleness.
Six bagels, twelve meals: Toast half of one (these were real bagels, thick, big as a third of a loaf of bread) with butter and jam for breakfast, toast the other half with butter and green-canister “parmesan” cheese for lunch. If I stuck them in the freezer they didn’t mold during paycheck-cashing times when I could buy chicken or Pop-tarts or pasta or eggs, and I had them when the money got thin again.
Steve gave me his day-old bagels for a year, and to this day one of the most satisfying comfort foods for me is an everything bagel with butter and parm. The real stuff now, grated by hand at the cheese counter, bagel still hot from the bakery oven, but it still makes me think of Steve banging through the door of the bookstore, or handing the bag over the counter when I stopped on my way home.
“We’ve recently learned that some employees have been giving away Vita gift cards, food, and coffee to homeless people in the neighborhoods we occupy,” Washington wrote in the email. “Although these were well placed intentions, please understand, it is our belief that feeding homeless people without comprehensive services actually enables, increases and promotes homelessness.”
Washington went on to write that “giving away products is theft and the grounds for immediate termination,” and then argued customers “will likely choose alternatives” if the cafe is “filled with homeless people.” The email concluded with an invitation to “discuss opportunities to volunteer or donate” to the company’s “charitable efforts aimed at homelessness” if employees wanted to “make a meaningful impact.”
I work now in a rich area with a shitload of heroin problems and I’m not ever going to shame you for giving money to an organization working for affordable housing instead of a fiver to a twitchy guy whose sign says HUNGRY AS FUCK. I am sure as shit going to shame you for shaming other people for giving food to the homeless out the back of a store where they’re not bugging anybody:
In an interview, former Capitol Hill manager Hannah Delon, who worked for the company at multiple locations for five-and-a-half years before getting fired for “failure to enforce protocol,” said for “at least the last ten years” baristas have given “pastry waste” to a homeless man they believe distributes the confections to other people experiencing homelessness. Delon also said baristas sometimes give away drip coffee dregs to homeless people who offer to help bring in tables and chairs at the end of the night.
Like God forbid people, even twitchy dudes with drug problems, are just people and you can be kind to them. There are cures for homelessness and addiction but no cure that I know of for being an asshole.
I looked Steve up the other day. I know I thanked him for the bagels but I couldn’t remember if I ever thanked him for what he was really giving me: The knowledge that someone cared about me, just for a moment, when I was living alone and scared and needed something warm.