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  • It was a dreary, rainy, chilly day. I arrived early at the food distribution center, to ride with Ralph, making the rounds of super market pickups of donations for the center. The door of the center was locked and the lights were all off. I went around back to see if he was maybe back there. A van was backed up to the receiving area of the warehouse, so I figured that must be Ralph. It wasn't - it was Mike, another driver. There's actually three different vans that have three different routes of daily pickups, all over the county. Ralph was across the way, waiting for Mike to get loaded up with boxes and coolers for his run. We helped Mike get loaded up, then loaded up Ralph's van.

    "We have to separate the breads from the sweets in these boxes, then any meats they have can go into the coolers. Some days, there's more than I can fit into the van, and I have to go back for the rest. Other days, there's not that much." Ralph has been doing this for six years. "When I retired, I knew I had to do something. I heard about this, and got right on it." He drives everyday, makes the runs to all the stores on his route. Everyone knows him, and they always light up when they see him coming. He clearly loves what he does. "People ask me why I do all of this, everyday, without any pay. I tell them - 'Oh, I get paid - I get paid in spades. I'm a rich man.'" He looked up at the sky, and I caught his drift. I was honored and humbled to be riding shotgun with Ralph on his route. He reminded me of a cross between my father-in-law, who I loved dearly and still miss eleven years after he left us, and my old boss, O.V. - both men I considered to be very rich men - rich where it counts. "If we had a refrigerated truck, we'd be able to get a lot more meats. They can only donate them if we have a refrigerated truck. They wind up throwing a lot away that could otherwise be used." The "greening initiative" hat I wear on my "day job" perked up at this. "I need to start working on getting them a refrigerated truck donated, so we can put all that good meat to good use, instead of throwing it away!" I'm working on it.

    If the furlough continues, I'll take over Ralph's route when he goes in for toe surgery. He's got a big toe with the same problem I used to have with the big toe on my left foot - it's bone on bone at the joint. I had surgery to remove the joint and fuse the toe to the foot, jointless. Best thing I ever did for that toe. I've never missed that painful joint, and it never slowed me down. Ralph'll be out for a week or two recuperating. A part of me is now kind of hoping that the Furlough continues for a couple more weeks, so I can run his route for him.

    When we got back with the day's donations, all separated by type, we weighed them up, logged them in, then I got to ride with one of the young guys over to the big Food Warehouse with the big Box Truck, a place they use to stock a lot of the restaurants in the area. He drove over, and I drove back. Now that I know how that works, I'll be able to make that run each day, freeing the young guys up to keep working at the center. "They have a new person doing their orders, and she's ordering way too much food. It's been a boon for us - we've been filling this big truck up with their overage, most days. Some days, we've had to go back twice."

    They did have enough food to nearly fill that truck up. We backed up to the bay, they brought pallet after pallet full of boxes of fresh lettuce, vegetables, yogurt, paper products, chicken wings, and more - the two warehouse guys helped me and the young kid load the truck up. I drove it back to the center - I used to drive a truck for a living, and it came right back to me, 32 years later - when we got back to the center, we separated everything by type, loaded up the dollies, wheeled them over to the scales, weighed and logged them in, then started loading it all into the coolers. There's a system to keep the older items up front, so they get used first, and we had to do a lot of shifting of boxes around to make sure the oldest got used first, so nothing went bad. Once done, it was time for their lunch break, and for me to knock off for the day. I'd done my 5 hours, and felt like I'd done 8. Good, honest work.

    I may be furloughed and not have paycheck coming in, but, I am a rich man, indeed. Life is good.
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