This is the story of a lunch. A fishes-and-loaves feast, or maybe a big pot of stone soup.
A glorious sunshine day, cool in the shade, breezy. The kind of day we Chicagoans live here for. A vast expanse of green, grassy patches punctuated with stands of trees, a hill, playground equipment, a fountain.
Calm, relaxed children, crocheting on a blanket in the shade with a mom.
A gaggle of ball boys playing a game that looks suspiciously like Calvin Ball. Watched unobtrusively by a dad and a mom from a shaded perimeter.
Children casting handcrafted stick fishing poles in the fountain's pool.
I arrived at the end of lunch time. Some children still sat on blankets, quiet, eating together. Others were herded off to a bathroom trip in the adjacent neighborhood club building. Several new parent volunteers were arriving, as others came to check their children out of camp for the day.
8:30 to 3:30, two meals and snacks, organized art instruction and group games and reading, free of charge, in a Hyde Park park, for as many children as showed up today. And tomorrow. And the day after that, as long as is necessary.
"We wanted to give parents an alternative," said Joy Clendenning, Hyde Park parent and one of the volunteer coordinators. "It's very upsetting that our public school system would put families and children in the position of having to consider crossing a picket line."
The idea for Solidarity Camp emerged in fits and starts over a period of just a few days. It began with the current Ray School PTA president's appeal on curriculum night last week: if you can, Lisa Samra urged, please consider taking a few extra kids into your home in the event of a teachers' strike.
This led to a shared concern among a few parents that kids should not have to cross a picket line. As it turned out, Ray School was to be one of the CPS "Children First" schools. Ray parents did not want families to have to face crossing a picket line and settle for "Children First," a clearly stop-gap emergency plan that can best be described as heavy on the security personnel.
At this point Laura Shaeffer got involved. Another Hyde Parker and Ray parent, Laura runs the Southside Hub of Production (SHoP) in Hyde Park, an artist coalition/gallery/concert venue/art instruction center that may be unique in the world. Laura herself is an artist/artist organizer/art educator/community creator and the founding chief of SHoP. Marshaling resources and meeting needs in creative ways is the business of her life. This idea, as it grew, was a no-brainer to her.
But Lisa wondered who would be willing to participate. "Who would leave their kids with people they didn't know?" Well, as she tells her own children, if they are ever lost, they are to find a mom with children to help them. People might leave their kids, she reasoned, with moms.
That's what Solidarity Camp is, mainly. Moms, parents, friends, and neighbors, serving neighbors. 24 today, to be precise. Watching 36 kids.
They were ready for more. They were ready for anything. "We were all pretty nervous. What's this going to look like?" Lisa shared. "We may receive criticism, it may be a total flop." She paused. "But it shouldn't stop us from trying."
"We know the obvious criticisms, the questions. We've heard them 100 times just today," Laura said, smiling, to the 101st person to raise liability objections. "It's a problem if we make it a problem. But we also know that neighbors can take care of each other when they need to."
"We're so used to needing an institutional umbrella," Lisa added.
But sometimes, it turns out, we don't.
Sometimes, when we live in a healthy close-knit community, all we need to do is put out a call through email, make some plans, and rely on one another. Late Saturday night an email requesting volunteers and food in the event of a strike was sent out through several neighborhood lists. By Sunday at 4 p.m. they not only had their 24 volunteers but they had enough food for 30 kids--their target number--for 3 days.
This included several loaves of bread, a large fruit salad, sliced cheeses, bananas, grapes. "People would text on their way to Costco: 'what do you need?'" Joy related how quickly it came together. "A friend of a friend of a friend was in Trader Joe's and just happened to ask for a donation. Trader Joe's said yes."
Fenn House, the home of SHoP on Woodlawn near 57th Street, was the food drop-off location. And at 11 a.m. today, there were enough volunteers in the park that a few could go over to Fenn House, make lunch, and bring it back to the park at noon.
Fresh fruit, sandwiches, cheese, cold water--a very nice picnic repast. A good sight better, I need hardly to add, than the average CPS school lunch. But that is a subject for another day. For now, neighbors have come together to serve neighbors who might not have other options, might not want the option they were offered by CPS.
These folks, these stone-soup-making, solidarity-oriented folks, have a habit of serving their schools. They love their teachers, stand behind them and with them, want to support them. They support CTU efforts to receive for their schools and themselves those things which make teaching effectively a possibility at all. They want to make it possible for every local family to be able to choose not to cross a picket line. And if, to help accomplish this, they need to organize a few dozen parents and community members, supply some yarn and books, and make a pile of sandwiches--well, it's all in a day's work, and it's the least they can do.
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