July 9th, 2020
Tandem is a restaurant on Milwaukee’s north side, near the corner of 18th and Fond du Lac. It’s located in a low income neighborhood. Most of the residents of the area are African-American. I’ve never actually eaten anything at Tandem, although I have been to the restaurant several times. Every time I have stopped at Tandem, it has been to pick up free meals to deliver to poor, undocumented immigrant families.
It’s a half hour drive from my house in the suburbs to Tandem. My wife, Karin, comes with me to pick up the meals and deliver them. She is enthusiastic about doing this work. It gives her a sense of purpose. It gives me one too.
Last week there was some mix up about our orders. Nobody knew that we were coming to pick up. Not knowing what else to do, Karin and I got in the back of a long line of people to wait for somebody to help us out. The line was exclusively made up of Blacks, except for my wife and me. Most of those waiting in line wore masks and practiced social distancing. One man served as a DJ to entertain the folks who were standing in the heat to get some food. An elderly Black woman wearing a mask came up to us and asked if we wanted to see a menu. We told her that we were trying get twenty-one meals to deliver to families on the south side of town.
She asked us, “You all pre-arranged for these meals?”
We told her that a friend of ours had called the orders in, but nobody seemed to know anything about the meals.
The lady took us out of the line and we followed her to the front door of the restaurant. She told us to wait, and she said that she was going inside to handle things.
In a little while, a young man brought us a big cardboard box full of meals. Karin and I thanked him. Then we started our rounds.
The south side of Milwaukee is full of old, dilapidated homes built on microscopic lots. The neighborhoods there have always been inhabited by immigrants. My grandma grew up in that part of town over one hundred years ago. At that time it was full of poor Slavic families. Now it is full of poor Latinos. In some ways it’s all different. In some ways, nothing has changed in over a century.
We had five drops. Each of the five families had been made aware that we were coming with food. A couple people greeted us at their front doors when we showed up. We left the meals on the porch at other homes. We had minimal interaction with the recipients of the food. Part of that was due to our lack of fluency in Spanish. Some of it was due to the fear created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that all these people were leery of strangers played into it. Karin and I tried to make the process as personal and human as possible, but it’s hard to do that nowadays.
Was it worth doing? Yes. These people are hurting, and we did a little bit to ease their troubles. The deliveries seemed insignificant, considering the huge need that is in our community. However, we did something that needed to be done. We made a tiny difference in the a few lives. We plan to continue doing that.
We touched people without touching them.