I cut out of work a bit early on Friday and drove the four hours home from St. Paul to Big Stone County with a tear stained face. I'm sure many Americans headed home to embrace their families and children the same yesterday.
Something good happened along the way down Hwy 12 and it seems like a good time to tell a happy tale. It may not be widely known, but I have a penchant for rural food access and a love of rural grocery stores. So I make it a point to spent 100% of our grocery budget in these mom and pop shops that are the front line of providing healthy food in our small towns.
I stopped in Kerkhoven MN's Quality Family Foods to do some grocery shopping. There was an assortment of locally grown squash varieties near the front door. So I loaded up on them- as well as some fruit, nuts, and crackers. When I checked out I had to pay for the squash separately as that money went directly to the farmer. My mountain of squash came to $13.29. I counted out my dollars and a handful of change and came up with $12.29--one dollar short. I was thinking through my options 1) put one of the squash back 2) ask the clerk to just gimme the squash for $12.29 when the young man behind me said "Ma'am. I can pay for your food."
I turned to look at the young teenage boy in a hoodie buying his Mt. Dew and Doritos. "Really?" I asked him. Here I am - a stranger, a middle class, Scandanavian looking woman in my professional attire-- and this boy was stepping up to buy my family our healthy, local food. I paused- wondering whether accepting this boy's money was the right thing to do. I mean, should I take money from this young guy? Maybe his family needs that food money more than mine.
"Thank you. I would really appreciate that" I said and he handed his money over to the cashier to pay for my food.
"Did you just see that?" I asked the bag boy who was helping me take my groceries to my car. "That kid just bought me - a rich white woman- my groceries." And I used the word rich, because I am rich in that middle class kinda way- with a home, food, car, loving family, interesting and meaningful profession, etc... I grabbed my camera and went back into the store.
"I'm Kathy. That was really kind of you to help pay for my groceries. Can I shake your hand? What's your name?"
"Julio D__", he replied.
I asked him if he'd mind if I took his picture and wrote a little story. He gave me his ok.
I told the few people in the store that I thought this nice young man and his generosity to a stranger said a lot about their little town. I should have said and a lot about the good values that Julio's family had instilled him- kindness, respect and generosity. Values that I find many rural Minnesotans hold in common.
There's been a series on Minnesota Public Radio about how the face of rural Minnesota is changing to include more immigrants. An article on Making Connections Across Ethnic Lines was highlight just the day before. As I took Julio's picture- the blonde teenage girls with him wanted him to look good and said "put down your Doritos!" And when I said that Julio made their town really shine, they coo'ed "oooooh!"
I want to thank Julio of Kerkhovan Minnesota for stepping up to help a woman he'd never met, and probably will never meet again, to buy food for her family. I promise you that tonight as we bake and eat that squash that our mealtime prayer will include a blessing for those who helped provide it. In this case it will be a blessing for Julio.