Giving Back at a Time of Self-Reflection
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a natural time to take stock: of what we are grateful for, what we hope for the next year, and what we want to atone for. This time of year also reminds me of a Rosh Hashanah three years ago, when my husband and I were coping with an unexpected layoff.
When Rich was laid off in August of 2009, it came as a total shock. In retrospect, of course, it shouldn’t have been. We both work at non-profits, and donations slowed throughout the country when the economy tanked. I knew we weren’t alone, that millions of others had gone through it and were going through it, but it was still quite an eye-opener. In my mind, layoffs happened to people who worked assembly lines and factories in the Midwest, not to East Coast Ivy Leaguers.
But we were also luckier than a lot of other people. We were never big spenders. Yes, we had a mortgage, which was a little scary to consider, but there were a lot of things we didn’t have that others have to worry about: We had both paid off our student loans long ago, we drive one used car with good mileage and no car payments, and we eschew credit cards, insisting on only spending what we have on hand. We were never big into going out to fancy restaurants, choosing instead to cook a meal to eat in our dining room. But we still had bills to pay, and bellies to feed.
My first instinct was to go over our food budget to see what I could trim. I stopped going to Russo’s in Watertown for produce, and gone were the trips to Whole Foods for fancy imported cheeses and olives. We started doing our produce shopping primarily at Market Basket in Somerville. And we didn’t eat a ton of meat, which is usually the most expensive item on a grocery bill. I’ve always had a pantry that’s been fully stocked – I credit (blame?) being raised by children of Holocaust survivors who understood first-hand what it felt like to go hungry. I actually think the main reason I thought of our food first was because my family had survived.
Because we had lived pretty frugally, the cuts we made to our food budget didn’t feel like too much of a burden. After Rich found new employment, I started a food blog. My hope was to help others who were in the same situation. I shared the stories of the meals I cooked, recipes for main dishes which will full of protein and fresh vegetables, and never cost more than a few dollars to prepare.
It’s been three years since the layoff and two years since I started writing Cheap Beets. I count my lucky stars every night that we made it through. I feel blessed that I was able to hold onto my own job, with its good health insurance and benefits, and I have a very kind boss. We were fortunate to bounce back on our own. That’s not the case for hundreds of people in our community. When I read these interviews with Ruth and Bill, I could still relate to how scary it is when the unexpected happens, and what a comfort a supportive community can be. During this time of self-reflection, giving back to the community seems like the right thing to do.