At our family’s Ben Franklin store, I often worked in the back, in the stock room. That was where we unloaded the Tuesday shipment and used a box cutter to open big cardboard boxes. We unpacked dime store merchandise: pots and pans, toys, toiletries, bird cages, giant plastic bags filled with water and goldfish, sneakers, and Maidenform bras, the kind that featured concentric circles of stitching on each cup.
We used a hand stamper, the kind where you line up the numbers like a combination lock. Everything was $1.99 or $3.99, never $2.00 or $4.00. It made people more willing to buy, my dad said. People tended to see the first number and not round up one cent.
When the boxes were empty, I’d break them down. Flip them over, and pull on one flap and then the other, flatten the box and stack it. I liked this work. It was rough on my hands but it was productive in a way that few things were. Open the box, unpack it, break it down.
This year’s Time of the Month Club feminine hygiene product donation drive for homeless women was a balm of physical work for me. First, we had 25 organizational partners, meaning that 25 groups offered to host donation boxes. Some of the boxes were huge, like this one being hoisted by my trusty Time of the Month Club partner, son Joe.
And then there were wonderful people leaving bags of tampons and pads on our front porch.
This was from the efforts of one remarkable woman who collected cash donations from her friends and shopped with a fistful of coupons to get the most for the money.
Our final tally for the October 2016 Time of the Month Club donation drive was 54,324 tampons and pads for homeless women in Milwaukee. We picked up donations, counted them, and bagged them for distribution to homeless shelters and outreach programs. I counted, tallied, sorted, and bagged. We delivered donations to shelters, hoisting big black garbage bags full of supplies in and out of our truck. They were heavy bags. They were full to the top and hard to lift and we lifted them.
At one shelter, a little boy, maybe 7 or 8, wanted to help us. So he carried boxes into the shelter.
I loved the little boy for this. For asking to be part of this physical work, for no other reason than to be helpful.
To lift, to carry, to open the boxes, and break them down. To count, to tally, to bag, to load, to deliver. The physical work is precious. It is real. It has meaning. I needed that. It was a balm on my wounded soul this month of November 2016. A balm.