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So it's our last day in Orlando, FL and we had all the stuff with Seniors First already shot and had one more day to get some footage from an event that I wasn't too sure about but was excited nonetheless. Prior to coming to Orlando I had learned that the Ms. Senior America Pageant was taking place the last day we were there. Now, please understand this is the Florida portion of this pageant just like what you find for any beauty pageant in America. Obviously you have to go through all the state pageants before you get to the "big one." This was the Ms. Senior Florida America pageant and it was interesting for Kaleb and me since we really didn't know what to expect, how things were going to go down, who was competing and how this whole thing would come together. Fortunately, I learned very early there would be no swimsuit portion of the event. 🙂 http://www.senioramerica.org/ SethAfter arriving we were very happy to know that EVERYONE there was aware of us attending the event and that helps more than anyone can imagine and I have the organizer, Kenyon Demps, to thank for that as well as Marsha Lorenz of Seniors First. One of the things I learned very early in television and video production work is that it is always great to have contacted all the necessary people ahead of time to not have to deal with any headaches or issues that would slow us down, so that was nice. When we walked in we were greeted by a myriad of people who were happy to see us there and were happy we were covering the event. They then ushered us around the "behind the scenes" areas of the event facility and started talking with the contestants, judges and former winners of the event. It was nice to learn about these women, their ages, lives, families and spirit. I am inspired by a lot of these women and their wonderful attitudes and energy. Hell, most of these women have more energy at 70 than I do at my age. We just sat back and talked with so many people and learned a tremendous amount during the two hours before the event started. One of the brightest moments of the backstage conversations was with the current Ms. Senior America. She is absolutely gorgeous and a truly wonderful woman. She is 61 and, I think, turned 62 during the filming of this documentary. She had a lot of great advice for people about seniors and why we need to care about them and get involved in their lives (I would share more here but I want you to watch the documentary when it is released). She inspired me even more and I continue to find myself caring more and more about seniors. Keep in mind this is completely new to me since I never really cared before or thought a lot about seniors. It also made me realize how we, as a country, treat our seniors poorly. You may be asking yourself how this matters in this film and I will respond with this... If we live in a country that rewards "Youth and Beauty" and seniors don't have either (in the eyes of most Americans) then how can we truly care for something or someone we don't think positively about? I am seeing more and more how hunger and ageism/discrimination go hand in hand in the battle of senior hunger. The pageant started and I was saddened there weren't very many people in the audience. It is true that the majority, if not all, of the people in attendance were family members, past winners, organizers, judges and Kaleb and me. I don't know if there were any people who were in attendance "just because." And, to me, that's too bad because they missed a wonderful pageant filled with some talented and beautiful women. One of these women was 91 years old and was incredibly functional at playing the piano, dancing and speaking. This is more proof that age is just a number and we need to stop thinking that once people reach a certain age that they no longer matter or can contribute to society. During the pageant Ms. Senior America gets on stage and dances and lip syncs to "Proud Mary" while dressed as Tina Turner. She was, in a word, AWESOME! My only complaints about this pageant are that there were only 9 contestants in Florida. Think about that only 9 senior woman competing in the state that has the largest number of seniors in America. But I guess that will change over time as the number of seniors grow and this becomes more popular in America. And, my other complaint is that the pageant seemed to drone on and on and on about everything and nothing but I never go to pageants and this is probably the norm in these types of things but I have a short attention span anyway and was ready to see the conclusion. Women competed in Evening Gown, Talent and Spoken Word (talking about why they want to be Ms. Senior Florida America). The former Ms. Senior Florida got up and did a Flamenco dance and I was, once again, blown away at her performance. After a bit it was time to announce the winner and a great woman named Terry Vece won. She was very well spoke, looked beautiful and did a great dance number. There were a couple who, in my opinion, could have won but Terry was a superb choice. We left the pageant location and thanked everyone for their help. After that we went back to our hotel to pack for the flights home - Kaleb to Indy and me to LA. The next steps... who knows. For more information on the Ms. Senior America Pageant, check out their information here -
We met up with Lisa and Jan from Seniors First to got out and do more shooting today. One thing I failed to mention in the last post is something about Seniors First's leadership. You cannot have a productive and successful organization without incredible leadership and it starts with the four great women I had been working with over the last couple of months. I couldn't have been able to get this great footage and experience in Orlando without the trust and auspices of Marsha, Jan, Lisa and Kathy. They didn't know anything about me and trusted that I would make a great documentary and really open America's eyes to this story. Without their trust and assistance I would not have been able to tell the story I want and need to tell for this film. Now that I got that off my chest I want to get back to what we experienced a different community center.Today is Friday and we are heading off to the L. Claudia Allen Community Center to film another Neighborhood Lunch Programs Seniors First provides. As at Engelwood they also have an on-site coordinator who is responsible for getting the activities and food ready for all people coming that day. It should be noted here too that this Neighborhood Lunch Program is something that takes place FIVE days a week and not something just happening on the day we were filming. Again, like before, we wanted to sit back and listen to people, watch their interactions and learn a thing or two. The woman responsible for this site is name Gloria and I looked forward to seeing her again. I had met her before when I had scouted these locations for my initial visit. Gloria was someone I immediately bonded with when talking with her. I think you can always tell when a person is genuine, sincere and cares what they are doing to work with people. Gloria works to ensure the food is prepared correctly and meets standards set forth by the government, coordinates the events and makes certain everyone has a great time. Nilda, who I spoke of in yesterday's blog, does all the same things as Gloria and is an employee of Seniors First. On this particular day the Neighborhood Lunch Program (NLP) is not only offering lunch but they have provided a health fair for the attendees. Also, on Fridays, an Asian group meets at this predominantly black community center to join in the festivities and then us the community center for some socialization and some kick ass Tai Chi. I thought it would be interesting to see the two cultures interacting and talk with the Asian women about how different their culture is from the predominantly Caucasian beliefs and treatment of the elderly. So I was really looking forward to seeing everyone in action and the how different or similar the two cultures would be while interacting. And, this day was truly, truly special because they were not only offering the Health Fair but they were providing BINGO. I think it was the largest BINGO group I have ever seen - then again, I haven't stepped into too many BINGO parlors. But the best part of this is that yours truly will be calling some of the BINGO. There was another group from a different community center/area also in attendance (Three Groups - two African-American and on Asian) that day so we had a bit of a rivalry with the BINGO. Gloria gave Kaleb and me some L. Claudia Allen Community Center T-Shirts to wear so we donned them proudly and started filming the festivities.
I talked with the people at the Health Fair (those displaying as well as the attendees) and wanted to hear how important they thought this was. It was interesting to see the weight machines, blood pressure machines and nutrition information. This information is important to all of us regardless of age. But the most interesting display on hand that day was the STD Awareness table/booth. After doing some research I have learned that seniors are one of the bigger rising groups contracting STDs. I guess it is true that some things don't have to stop when you get old. 🙂 As the Health Fair ended and in between the BINGO session I started walking around taking photos of some of the people in attendance. I took a lot of photos and too many to post here but I will do something with them eventually. I saw all kinds of people and they were doing everything from knitting to talking to laughing or playing cards. After a while of taking photos I started having people come up to me and ask if I would take their photo. I could see the joy in their faces when I would take their photo because someone was paying attention to me. In fact, one woman approached me asking me to take her photo stating, "I just bought this dress. Do you think it's pretty?" That statement made me somewhat sad because, even though I could see the joy in her face, I believed her request to be more about attention than anything else. I could tell she wanted someone to pay attention to her and that's what I did. I took her photo and thanked her for letting me do so. I also let her know how beautiful I thought her dress was. She smiled and walked away. After calling a few rounds of BINGO I handed the mic back to their normal BINGO caller and started taking more photos. One photo, shown below, I took at the end of the BINGO session. I wanted to get all the people I could in frame and just snap a photo. This photo brought a tear to my eye (literally) because all the people here were so happy and grateful someone was there to film them. Everyone there was so happy and it was great to see the three different groups interacting together and enjoying their time at the community center.
After BINGO was finished then everyone ate lunch. I made my way over to the Asian table and started talking with the group there. Fortunately I had an interpreter who was able to tell me everything the people were saying. Most knew English but some of it was broken so Andrew (the group leader) was able to interpret for me to make things easier. The only time I have been yelled at during this entire documentary process came when I asked the table of Asian women a question about the treatment of the elderly. When I asked the table if it would be acceptable for them to put their elderly relatives into a nursing home or assisted-living facility like it is in the United States. After the interpreter asked my question one of the Asian women started speaking very quickly and angrily and pounded her fist on the table while looking at me. I had no idea what she was saying but I am smart enough to realize she was PISSED! Andrew told me that this question is an insult to the Asian culture and something that is just unheard of to them. However, Andrew informed me that this is starting to change in the Asian culture. He said that as more and more western culture trickles into the Asian culture the younger generations are not seeing the importance of taking care of the elderly relatives. It appears as if this problem could be growing because I have always admired the way the Asian (as well as many other cultures) admire, respect and revere their elderly. After talking with them it was time for me to get out of their way and let them do their Tai Chi. I ended up snapping off a few photos while being completely intrigued and mesmerized by their balance and patience while performing this beautiful, ancient art.
On the last blog of the documentary I will share an interesting time Kaleb and I had at the Ms. Florida Senior Pageant. The women competing are gorgeous and wonderfully agile. It's nice to see how some seniors are not letting life pass them by and are as active now as they were in their younger years.
See you then, Seth
Kaleb and I flew from Indianapolis to Orlando, FL to begin filming what I had already scouted and researched a couple of weeks earlier. I had booked my trip back to Orlando through Expedia.com and was able to get a great deal on hotel and airfare through Expedia's package deals. I ended up booking Kaleb and me at The Peabody Hotel across the street from the convention center. It was a complete departure from what I just experienced in Booneville, KY. Now, before anyone goes off and starts asking me about staying at The Peabody while I am asking for money for the documentary please note this was paid for by the executive producers and we got a REALLY great deal at this hotel and it was incredibly cost effective. In fact, my flight and hotel expense was just a little more expensive than what the costs were in Booneville. But, as I have said many times, the costs of this entire documentary add up and can be expensive when trying to tell the accurate story of Senior Hunger in America. Anyway, when we got to the hotel we were fortunate enough to be put in a suite (thanks to the help of the great people at Seniors First) on the 22nd floor of this massive hotel. Again, this was a welcomed relief after roughing it in Kentucky for the last several days. Yes, I'm spoiled. I like my little luxuries like a 7-11 close by, more than 3 restaurant choices serving fried, deep friend and deep fried on a stick food and I like being able to have cell reception and instant email. I will be the first to admit that I am completely, hopelessly and shamefully addicted to email. As you can see from the pictures below we were in a REALLY sweet hotel with a wonderful view of downtown Orlando and one of the many pool areas. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to stay at this hotel.
NEIGHBORHOOD LUNCH PROGRAM
The following morning we were meeting Lisa and Jan at the west-side office of Seniors First, getting some interviews and video here and then making our way to the Engelwood Community Center where their Neighborhood Lunch Program takes place. As I mentioned before, I want to show different elements of senior hunger in this film and not just people delivering food to seniors. Let's face it, 20 minutes of seeing people delivering food will get old very quickly to the viewer of this movie. And, seniors have so many more needs than just food. One of the most critical elements to anyone's well-being is social interaction. We are all social creatures and having that time to connect with other humans is something we often take for granted but are reminded as to how precious that interaction is when left alone - sometimes for days. Seniors First does an incredible job of not only feeding seniors but working with city and county officials to provide a lunch program at a community or city center. The day we were coming was a special day too in that the community leader (Nilda) was having a post-Easter celebration with dancing, and a DJ and balloons and cake and the most wonderful chicken I have ever tasted. Did I mention that this location serves a large Hispanic community? One thing I have to mention here too (as to not polarize the people reading this blog or who watch this film) is most of the people you see at Engelwood hail from Cuba, or Puerto Rico and are very much here legally. I know the immigration issue is one that can polarize many people but these people are no different than any other red-blooded American who came to this country in search of a better life, pay taxes, worked for many years and are now enjoying life in a better environment than they once had and are close to their families.
We arrived at Engelwood and are immediately greeted by a bus dropping off passengers coming to the celebration. These are regular attendees but today was a little more special considering all the festivities taking place. As you can imagine, most arrived in their best attire ready to dance, socialize, laugh and enjoy some great food. I love that Seniors First makes it easy for their clients to utilize their services and enjoy time socializing with one another and still feeling like they matter and people genuinely care about one another. We started getting video of everyone and thankfully Seniors First took care of getting all the waivers and releases signed by the people attending. Personally, I believe people in attendance were happy to see Kaleb and me and were smiling and waving at his video camera and my still camera. I had no issue taking photos that day. Before lunch was served the DJ fired-up his laptop and began spinning the hits. It was great to see so many people dancing and one man even brought his own maracas. He only stopped playing his maracas whenever it was time to eat. You just had this feeling that he was happy to be there and loved being able to play his maracas with passion and finesse.Time passed and we got some wonderful interviews with many of the people in attendance as well as the community leader, Nilda. But the one interview that stands out to me was when Tony (I forget his last name but he's in the documentary) a politician from the community and former Deputy Sheriff came to visit the celebration. He also agreed to be on camera and talk about how important something like this is for the community. He then started talking about how he got involved and shared a story about his mother who had special needs and relied upon services like the ones Seniors First provides. During that conversation he became choked up and started to cry and I could tell the true emotion and sincerity this man has for seniors. You know, I don't have a lot of love or positive thoughts towards our politicians these days but was reminded how great politicians CAN be when they truly care about being civil servants. I expressed my position and thoughts with Tony and thanked him for reminding me there are still some wonderful caring people working in politics to truly make a difference in this world and their communities. I also have to thank Lisa and Jan from Seniors First who really know how to work with the people in their communities to make a difference in the lives of seniors.
Tomorrow I will share our experience at the L. Claudia Allen Community Center where the African-American community and the Asian community share an great space. Until then, enjoy these pictures from our time at the Engelwood Neighborhood Lunch Program.
Well, it's time to say good-bye to my friends in Booneville, KY. I had a great time getting to know some wonderful people and had some experiences I will never forget. More importantly, I was able to capture some incredible footage and interviews for the documentary. I was somewhat reluctant to come to Booneville initially but my fears quickly dissipated when Kaleb and I started to immerse ourselves into this culture. I am really going to miss the people here but have vowed to return within the year for the documentary premiere or just to help deliver meals. The only thing that will be different from this trip is I am bringing my wife with me. She has heard all of the stories about this place and wants to experience for herself and she will make the trip with me whenever I return.I did fail to mention that Kaleb and I had ZERO internet connectivity and extremely limited cell phone reception while in the area. When we returned to our house/hotel and walked into the front door we would immediately lose reception of any kind. We had to stand on the front porch most of the time to talk with our significant others. Most nights were rainy, windy and cold so it didn't make it any easier trying to talk with someone on the phone. One night we got locked inside the house/hotel when the handle on the door was stuck and the door wouldn't open. Neither Kaleb or I couldn't get cell service to call Linda and have her come and save us. We couldn't escape through the back door because it was completely boarded up. We were trapped. Finally I put my phone as close to my bedroom window as I could and was able to get ONE bar. I used that good fortune to call Linda and have her come and free us from our time in purgatory. Kaleb and I have several little stories and experiences like this one that will gladly share over drinks with any of you reading this some day. As we drove away from Booneville I was somewhat sad in knowing that a part of me will always be in this city and these people but I have to move on because I have four interesting, personable and caring women waiting for me in Orlando at Seniors First. While working in Booneville I used my phone to check my email whenever I had a signal. During that time I was alerted that I was given permission to film the Ms. Florida Senior America pageant while in Orlando and can use it in my documentary. Not only does Seniors First kick some serious ass they also we helpful in lining up this opportunity to share a story with American most people don't get the chance to see. So now it's off to Orlando! By the way, I finally got 3G service on my iPhone about an hour after leaving Booneville. Praise Tom Cruise! 🙂
It's been almost a week since we've arrived in Booneville, Ky and considering it's such a small town we have started to become locals. People are no longer curious about us and just accept that we are running around all over town shooting video and taking pictures. We have spent time gathering B-Roll and interviews and people getting food. All in all, it's been an incredible experience and I don't regret choosing to come here and meet with these amazing people; but we're not done yet. We were scheduled to make our way to the Senior Citizen Center to share a meal with a lot of seniors in the area who use this center for camaraderie, socialization and lunch. We had stopped in early in the week to meet with the seniors here but they told us we needed to come back at the end of the week because they were serving a special meal and all the seniors in the area would be in attendance so we obliged them and agreed to come back at the end of the week. The senior center is a great community center and while we were filming they were in the process of constructing a new gathering area so all the seniors were in a smaller area of the center. Even though it was a smaller space it was still full of great, jovial seniors who, like the rest of the people I have met, were just as friendly and welcoming as most everyone I had met in Booneville.One couple in particular, Henrietta and Clyde, was so much fun to be around and just had me laughing. Clyde is 86 and Henrietta is 81. We first met Henrietta on Saturday night when we went to Dooley's Diner to listen to Bluegrass music and go Clogging with the townsfolk. Yes, I just used the word townsfolk. 🙂 And, we met Clyde at the "Table of Truth and Knowledge" earlier in the week at Dooley's Diner. I hope I am as active, sharp and spunky at 81 as Henrietta is; she's someone I really enjoyed getting to know and talking with whenever I saw her. She is, as I have heard people say before, a "firecracker." I hope I get back to Booneville soon enough just to spend time with her and Clyde. We spent time with the seniors while they had lunch and they were gracious enough to allow Kaleb and me join them for a great meal. Prior to the meal they wanted me to call Bingo so I, once again, obliged them and called several Bingo games (which has become a recurring theme whenever I would travel to a senior center) and I had more fun than I expected I would calling Bingo. I attribute that to the company of people more than the act of calling Bingo. The people made it so much more enjoyable for me and truly enjoyed making them laugh and, at time, entertaining them. I was feeling very benevolent that day. I don't know what it was or why but the people of Booneville had affected me in a way that I had never experienced. So, I wanted to do something nice for some of the people we had met. Whether is was buying lunch, dinner or dessert I wanted to spend my own money and give back to the people who have given Kaleb and me so much. One family in particular, the Hollan family, really resonated with me. I don't know if it was my first meeting with Stormy who is originally from San Diego but now lives with her husband Simon Hollan in Booneville (Simon is originally from Booneville and they moved back to help take care of the family), or the first time I met the matriarch of the family Nannie Hollan or just talking with all of the members of the family that made me really like and connect with these people but something happened and I hold a special place in heart for them. So I wanted to do something nice for them and I wanted to take their photo. Since I was going to their home to ask to take their photo I had the manners enough to go there with something in return. Kaleb and I went to the local Dollar General Store (there are two in Booneville - The Family Dollar and The Dollar General Store) and I bought two gallons of milk and I bought Nannie some "comfy" clothes. When I first met Nannie she was wearing some fleece-type pants and a matching shirt. I don't know if it was her pajamas or her "lounging-around" clothes but they were bright, colorful and looked really comfortable. After stopping at the dollar store we made our way to their house and went up to say hi. When we approached the house, I noticed the front door open but couldn't see inside so I just started calling out for Stormy or Nannie or Simon to come out. When I did I saw more of the Hollan family than I had met so far. Not only was there Nannie, Simon and Stormy but they all paraded out of the house and onto the porch. Here I met Stormy and Simon's two children, Patrick who is Simon's other child and Simon's sister Betty who is dating Shawn (pictured with the buzz cut - I had met Shawn a couple of times before this photo was taken). I was expecting to see a few people but now there were eight. We presented them with their goodies and they were, as I expected, thankful and grateful for their gifts and I asked if I could take their photo. They agreed and we took a few pictures. Some are good and others are not so good. That last statement has nothing to do with the Hollan family but the fact I was only traveling with my camera and a couple of speed lights and no light modifiers or softboxes. Could I have taken better photos if I had my studio equipment? Well, um, YES! But I made the most with what I had and tried to take really nice snapshots and not award-winning photos. We chatted for a while and went on our way. I think of the Hollan family as my friends and hope to see them again someday. Once again, they are a prime example of people who may not have a lot in terms of money or fancy, designer clothes or a house full of frivolous items but they make the most of what they do have. "Keeping up with the Joneses" is not a way of life for most people in Booneville and that's OK with them. They are happy to have their lives and try to make the most of what they do have while living in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. Tomorrow we say good-bye to Booneville and start to make our way to Orlando. See you then, Seth
The last couple of blogs have been about my experience in Booneville, KY and what I have observed. Yes, I have seen some people being treated badly and I note it here because I want you, the reader, to understand everything I am seeing and experiencing. Just as I was open about my initial feelings about making this type of documentary I need to be honest about the experiences, where we stayed, who we have met and how those people have affected me (good or bad). I have an opinion and observations and need to point them out so that you can get an idea of what's going on in my mind since this documentary is about my journey and experiences.
That said, I DO NOT want you to get the wrong impression about my experience with the people of Booneville. These people are the nicest, friendliest, most caring, benevolent, gracious, curious, sweet, endearing, charming, genuine and most wonderful people I have ever known. Many of these people don't have the proverbial "pot" in which to piss but they are happy, simple (in life but not in mind) and content. I can't tell you how many times people wanted to have us over for dinner. It touched me in ways I have never experienced. I couldn't imagine not having a lot of money or food and then asking someone to come and share what little I do have. To me that is unfathomable but to people we met it is their way of life. Sure, many of these people moved away to get work because they had to but ultimately returned here to enjoy life. It is one of the most beautiful areas of the country. And, while the restaurants don't cater to my (mostly) vegetarian diet I still enjoyed eating there and sitting at a table never knowing who will come up to the table and site down with Kaleb and me for lunch, dinner or just to talk about life. The people like Linda Marcum (owned the place where we stayed) and Cleda Turner are some of the most colorful and interesting people I have met and others like some of the people I will talk about in my post tomorrow are those I genuinely care about and want to know what happens in their lives.
My trip to Booneville has been the most eye-opening and life-changing trip I have ever taken and all of these people have a very special place in my heart. Sure, some people said some things to make someone cry or weren't as friendly as other people in the community but we all have different personalities and styles and you find that behavior no matter where you live. I am not judging these people for their style but think there may be better ways to solve a problem and I merely point that out in my observations. I will always have a piece of Booneville in my heart, have some wonderful memories and am happy to call many of the people Kaleb and I met my friends. I would encourage anyone and everyone to get to Booneville for hiking, bike riding or just wonderful company at the local greasy spoons! I know you will walk away with a different outlook on life and could possibly make a new friend or two.Tomorrow I share out time at the Senior Center and our gift to the Hollan Family. See you then, Seth
Tuesday morning came quickly and Kaleb and I were excited about what the day had in store. We were heading to Susie Lacfield's place called "The Food Place" where she distributes food and commodities and, as we learned, furniture to those in need in Booneville once a month. Fortunately we happened to be in town when this occurred. Ok, it wasn't fortunate. I planned the trip to make certain we were able to film this process. Susie is the wife of Pastor Jerry Lacefield and as you can imagine their work is like many of the others in the area.... mission work. Susie receives donations from a variety of organizations and people to distribute to the people of Booneville. She has two buildings that house all of her items. The first is a converted motel that houses a lot of the food getting distributed and still serves as a hotel for the missionaries coming to the area (this is where the people from North Carolina stayed while in town distributing furniture). Thee second is the old jail with houses loads and loads of clothing. Apparently there are some really nice items there but I never went into the two-story jailhouse to see for myself but had heard from several people including the people from North Carolina so I will have to take their word for it. Back that "The Food Place" there is an area of the property where Susie keeps clothes available for people to just come and take or sort through. She also allows people to bring their old clothes and exchange them for other items within those boxes. The boxes are underneath a patio type structure and are available 24/7 for people to come and rummage through.So we arrived at the location about four hours early to conduct our interview with Susie, have lunch with her and her volunteers and get the food boxes put together and ready for distribution. We wanted to talk with her about the programs and assistance she offers, how she got her start and how important this food program means to the people of Booneville. Susie works directly with God's Pantry (which is a program of Feeding America) in Lexington, KY and has to drive up to Lexington to get the food and bring it back to Booneville to distribute it. As you can imagine, it's a challenge to drive 1.5 hours each way to get whatever food is available and pass it out to the people of Booneville. Here she feeds whoever she can with whatever she gets. It's also interesting for me to see the differences between Meals on Wheels and Feeding America since I have seen Meals on Wheels in action in Los Angeles, San Francisco. Marin County and Orlando thus far and this is my first exposure to Feeding America programs. We conducted our interview with Susie and then went to her home to have lunch. Waiting for us at Susie's home were several people who work directly with her as volunteers. It was a great spread of homemade delights such as chicken salad, corn casserole, potatoes, croissants and tea. It was all very tasty and Kaleb seemed to enjoy it a little more than me since I don't anything with mayonnaise and almost everything there had mayo in it. I stuck with potatoes and croissants. One of the women also brought a great chocolate cake so I made up for the lack of lunch food with dessert! 🙂 After lunch we ventured back to "The Food Place" and started getting the boxes put together for distribution. Susie has a system where people have to fill out forms to get their food. I know it's something she has to do since she receives federal commodities and has to keep track of all food going in and out of her organization. People get one box of food and anything else Susie has around her place to help these people out with their food or clothing needs. But before all that can happen we have to food in boxes. We have about 1.5 hours to all the boxes together. I think there something like 60+ boxes of food that had to be assembled that day so we all took a product and using Susie's checklist we went through and began loading boxes with the canned food for the people of Booneville. The boxes consisted of the following items:
- Box of cereal
- Bag of beans (Pinto, I recall)
- Canned sweet or creamed corn (2)
- Peanut Butter
- Potatoes (Bag of potatoes)
- Canned Green Beans (2)
- Canned Cranberry Sauce (1)
- And a choice of meat ("Cooking Meat" - that's what they called it - or Canned Tuna Fish)
Monday came around and Kaleb and I were looking forward to hanging out with Cleda Turner. We spent a little part of Sunday with her when we attended her church but today was different. We were driving around with her and going to visit some “shut ins.” Now, I had never heard that term before but it’s what they call people who live in their homes and cannot get out or around to get a lot of food; either they are in wheelchairs, old and frail, have no transportation or, in one case, blind. They rely on people like Cleda to bring them food and anything else they can get. I shutter to think what would happen to or what life would be like for these people if someone like Cleda (and many others around this world) didn’t help or care.We started off by gathering some food at Cleda’s place of work (The Owsley County Outreach Center) commonly known as the Booneville Thrift Store. Here Cleda not only sells clothes but she also keep food for seniors AND children. Cleda provides clothing and food to the people of the area and her primary focus is feeding the children of the area through her “Backpack Program.” This is similar to what you see in other cities where children are given backpacks of food on Fridays so they have enough to eat on the weekends. Unfortunately, some of this food doesn’t get to the children because their parents or parent’s friends or rats get to the food before the children do. But, that’s another story I can share if you are interested in knowing – just send me an email or personal note on Facebook. She sells clothes at the thrift store and every $7 of goods sold provides one backpack for a child in the area. So you know Kaleb and I had to buy something from the thrift store. I bought an Owsely County shirt (as seen below) and I still have it and wear it with pride. Once the car was loaded with food for the seniors we went out to meet people and distribute the food. Our first stop was at some rent controlled apartments in Booneville just down the street from Cleda’s store. Then again, EVERYTHING is just down the street from Cleda’s store. Here we were visiting two people. The first is Frank and as you can see in the picture below he lost his hands but had his two big two surgically placed where his thumbs would normally be located. He lost his hands in a factory accident in Ohio. Originally from Booneville, Frank moved to Ohio to get work and then moved back to his hometown. This is not uncommon as there is really no work to be had in the area. It was great to get to know Frank and like many people in Booneville Frank finds his strength in Jesus and seeking the glory of the kingdom of heaven. Our second stop in the apartments was to a man named Pat. Pat is in a wheelchair and has been for a number of years. He is married to a sweet, wonderful woman named Ruby. Pat is just a good ‘ole boy who has a gravelly voice combined with a southern accent. At times it was hard to completely understand everything he was saying but he always said it with a smile. In fact, his wife Ruby never finished a sentence without a smile on her face. You know, it’s meeting people like Pat and Ruby that help to make this trip and my journey of discovery worthwhile. It would be easy for me to get down, saddened or depressed with everything I am experiencing in Booneville but meeting people like Pat and Ruby or Cleda or the Hollan Family or Melanie Thomas (more about Melanie in the next blog) or the people clogging their way into my heart at Dooley’s Diner makes it so much easier for me to tell this story. It’s amazing what a simple smile or laugh can do to a person’s psychological and emotional well being. We left the apartment complex to visit a woman named Alfa. Alfa is blind, rents a house and (at the time we were taping) is taking care of her grandson, his wife and their baby. There is so much I could say here about Alfa, Frank and Pat. I think I could devote a blog to these people but I have to keep it as an overview and you will get to know all of them a little better in the finished documentary. We talked with Alfa for about a half hour and also spoke with her granddaughter-in-law about the situation in Booneville and what it’s like for a young person growing up in that area. But the one thing that concerned me more than any other at Alfa’s was how much people were smoking and around a newborn. Don’t get me wrong. I have absolutely NOTHING against smokers and completely support your right to do whatever you want to your body. However, when we went into Alfa’s house we were greeted by a massive cloud of smoke and all three adults (Alfa, her grandson and her granddaughter-in-law) had cigarettes in their mouths. The two younger adults had cigarettes hanging out of their mouths while holding the baby. I’m no doctor but I can guess that’s not completely healthy for that baby and its developing lungs and respiratory system. We left Alfa’s house and went to visit Martha. Before I go any further I have to note here that, once again, I could devote an entire blog posting about Martha, her current situation, her past situations and her lack of hope. I have to stay on target here and talk about what we were there to do that day and that was to make her life a little better by bringing her some food. If you want to know more about Martha and her life just send me an email or a note on Facebook. But, as my friend Cleda has said, “Martha can make you laugh and cry in the same visit.” When we walked into her house I couldn’t help but note the smell of cat urine and how completely dark and depressing her place was. We talked with her for about an hour and learned some horrific things about her life, the death of her youngest son and how she takes care of 5 grandchildren (they actually live with her). It saddens me that she is not getting food because she has many other mouths to feed. Did I mention she lives on about $700/month! But what really weighed on my emotions/thoughts about these great people of Booneville was something Martha said when we were leaving. I started asking all my interviewees “What gives you hope knowing you are in situation where people have to bring you food and your not in a financial or physical condition to improve your circumstance?” with the hopes I would get some great answers that I could sprinkle throughout the film. Martha’s answer was (and still is) the only one of it’s kind when she replied to my question by saying, “Well, I guess when I die I will get to meet Jesus.” It’s a short reply but a very powerful one and she conveyed to me that her only hope is meeting her maker. That makes me sad that people of this world and in this country of overwhelming wealth and decadence have the thought that death is their only hope for a better life. On Monday I will share with you our time with Susie Lacefield and her weekly food distribution program. See you then. Seth
Kaleb and I got up Saturday morning and went out to meet up with one of our contacts, Susie Lacefield, to check out what’s going on with the day’s events. We were told there would be a massive furniture delivery/drop to the people of Booneville. We left our hotel and made drove the five minutes to “The Food Place” (and, yes, that’s the name of Susie’s location) to get the camera ready and survey the situation. I wasn’t really sure what to expect because we hadn’t been told a lot of information other than some people were coming in today to deliver furniture to those in need in Booneville. The event was taking place in the late morning so we arrived about a half hour to an hour early to get ready. When we arrived we noticed a massive semi-trailer already parked in its location and some people were standing around. We learned that this furniture wasn’t something Susie had coordinated rather a church group from North Carolina had been gathering and collecting furniture for well over six months with the final destination of Booneville. This church group from North Carolina contacted a group called the Appalachian Resource Ministry (ARM) to discover with whom they should contact to facilitate this delivery. The ARM put them in contact with Susie (her husband is a pastor of a church in Booneville) and she organized the day by determining who would receive this free furniture. I’m not really sure how Susie ultimately determined the people who would receive this furniture but she had her list of people and what they would receive long before Kaleb and I arrived.It was our second full day in Booneville so Kaleb and I just wanted to sit back and watch what happens and get to know the people of this poor but warm and friendly city. Also, during this time I started talking with the people on site who were either from North Carolina or who work directly with Susie Lacefield. Over time I quickly befriended and young woman named Stacy and her husband Ashley who were part of the group from North Carolina. Stacy and I instantly bonded and had a lot to talk about. And, just like everyone else I had met thus far, she was friendly, warm and caring. I learned a tremendous amount about Stacy and her husband Ashley that day and genuinely like and admire them. Moving on… I wanted to inform all the people in attendance that day that they were being filmed and were going to be part of the documentary. With that formality out of the way, it was time to start shooting the furniture delivery and watching people graciously accepting and taking away this “new-to-them” furniture. The semi trailer that was brought onto the lot was completely full of furniture and there were some items that were clearly used at scratching pads for cats but there were really nice items there as well. They had brought everything including sofas, chairs, washers, dryers, refrigerators and other pieces and parts. It was pretty impressive to look inside that trailer and see all the furniture that was getting ready to be placed in new homes. The people getting the furniture started arriving around 10am that morning and the distribution of goods got underway shortly thereafter. It was great to see all the people of Booneville eagerly wanting and needing this furniture. This was really my first exposure to a lot of people in Booneville. Keep in mind that on the previous days I met with our contacts, a few men at Dooley’s and the old man who owned the property of the barn I photographed. This was really eye opening to me to see so many people in need. And, all the people I met this day were appreciative and truly thankful. It was a nice change of pace considering I am used to so many people in this country having an “entitlement” attitude. We spent several hours watching the furniture getting handed out and then loaded on trucks/cars or whatever they had to transport this back to their homes. I also took that time to talk with the great people of Booneville and start to get to know them. One family I met, the Hollan Family, was so incredibly genuine and nice and I enjoyed talking with them. The first person I met from the family was Nannie (yes, that’s her real name) and then I got to know her daughter-in-law Stormy (who was originally from San Diego) and I briefly spoke with Stormy’s husband Simon but could tell they were just great people. But, I spent most of my time talking with the people from North Carolina and learning more about how they were helping the people of this area. During this time we were dodging rain clouds and moving in and out of the building to get shelter and stay dry. The group tried to cover all the furniture but the people receiving the furniture were gladly accepting the pieces regardless of their physical condition or dampness. A BRIEF SIDE STORY There are some things I noticed that also perturbed me while I was there but I have to keep in mind that I am a making a documentary and have to stay neutral. And, I am not here to judge but to convey what I am seeing. That said, I would only point out one item I noticed that made me angry that day. Let me put it in the form of a question – Can we please get away from LISTS and only helping or catering to the people on a “List?” I, along with several other people, saw a woman who was not on the list of people getting the furniture. She was in tears and waited for hours just to get something to take care of her and her children. We learned that she only had 5 mattress pads for the children and her to sleep on and NOTHING else. She was trying to make a new life for herself and just wanted help. But, because she was not on Susie’s list she was told, and I quote, “You’re not on the list and won’t be able to get anything. I think you should just go home.” Susie’s logic was that the furniture on the truck was already allocated to the people on the list and there were no extras. Ultimately this comment from Susie Lacefield brought that woman to utter sadness and a face full of tears. Fortunately, Stacy (the great girl from North Carolina) heard this story and told me there was more furniture on the truck than what had been allotted to the people on the list. So, when Susie wasn’t looking or had gone into the building for something, Stacy told the crying girl to go and get her vehicle and she would take care of her. The crying girl went to get her vehicle and was given a sofa and other furniture so she could take care of her family and begin to start her new life. My point in sharing this story is about getting people off LISTS and just helping our fellow human beings! BACK TO THE MAIN STORY At the end of the day Kaleb and I wanted to interview the people from North Carolina (Donald and Kathy) who organized and coordinated this event. I asked them if I could ask a few questions of them for the film and they agreed. They did provide a stipulation by saying, “You can ask us questions as long as we get to ask you some questions when it’s (the interview) over.” I agreed. We spoke about what they were doing, how the received the furniture, how long it took to make this happen and how we can do more to help our fellow man. When the interview concluded Kaleb and I were asked the questions from Donald and Kathy. As you can guess, the questions were about… Jesus. We talked for about a half hour on Jesus this and Jesus that. Now, I don’t believe in Jesus but believe in being a good person. What I loved about our conversation was that neither party judged each other and was able to “agree to disagree” without losing respect for each other. We also believed that we (Donald and Kathy and Kaleb and me) were not that different in our approach to living life and helping our fellow humans; we are just taking different paths to achieve this goal. As my friend Craig Cox once said, “Agreeing to disagree while still having respect for one another is a lost art in America.” Well said, Craig! Later that night, Kaleb and I went to Dooley’s Diner to see the live Bluegrass band and cloggers that gather upon this place on Saturday nights. We had such a great time meeting with people, immersing ourselves into their culture and listening to some great music and stories. We had a great time and even got on the dance floor a couple of times to try our luck at clogging. Needless to say, we sucked! The following day we went to church with Cleda Turner (as I had promised her). It is called Sugar Camp Baptist Church and, for someone who had hoped to never step into a church again, was as pleasant of an experience as I could have hoped. The people of this area are very religious people and I completely respect their beliefs. However, I don’t plan on going back to church any time soon. 🙂 See you tomorrow, Seth
Kaleb and I got into Booneville on a Thursday night. It took forever to find our hotel (again, I use that term loosely and don’t really know what else to call it) since this place had no physical address. Eventually we found our hotel and we were driving up this long, winding driveway up the side of a hill. Initially we parked at the house where our place was located but Kaleb pointed out that the driveway continued around the house and up to another house at the top of the hill. That was where we were staying. So we got back in the car and continued up the rest of the driveway to our location.I am referring to the place we are staying as a hotel for lack of a better term since it’s not a “Bed & Breakfast” and it is a an old schoolhouse that was converted to a 3 bedroom house with a kitchen, a living room and an extremely small bathroom. The bathroom is only slightly larger than most bathrooms you find in 3 star hotels in Europe but it's a bathroom with a door, toilet and hot shower - and to me, that's all we need! This schoolhouse was built many, many years ago (I think something like over 100 years ago but am not completely certain) and hasn’t been maintained as well as one would expect. The first thing that hits you when you walk in is the overwhelming, musty smell and then your eyes are confused as to what to focus on since there was so many confusing patterns and colors. It looks like Cracker Barrel and Sherman Williams had a snarling “devil baby” and then that baby threw up all over the place. It was quaint and, in some strange way, charming. But, it was home for Kaleb and me for the next 10 days. We are staying in the converted house while Linda lives in her home which happens to be an old, converted Church. Our hotel is called Linda’s Victorian Rose and is owned by Linda Marcum. We got to officially meet her the following morning since we had arrived a little later than expected and we didn’t want to disturb her. I instantly felt secure about our belongings and safety when Linda (a 70 year old woman who can beat the snot out of most people I know) informed Kaleb and me that we’re completely safe and if anyone comes up to the property to do any harm then she will pull out her shotguns (note – this is plural on purpose) and “take care of ‘em.” With that piece of mind, Kaleb and I went into town to meet up with our two contacts – Cleda Turner and Susie Lacefield. We wanted to say “HI, “ let them know we were in town and start to get a feel for the city and people. The reason for staying Booneville for 10 days is because I believed it is important for Kaleb and me to be completely immersed into the culture and earn the trust of the people of Booneville. I have heard people in Appalachia have a tendency to be a little leery of outsiders so the sooner we can earn their trust the more information we can gather and the better the story will be in the end. We met up with our contacts and were told to just drive around the city, go to the restaurants, talk with the locals and get a feel for the area. That process took all of 30 minutes considering the city is unbelievably small only has literally three restaurants and not much to do in the way of entertainment. So we decided to head to a restaurant called “Dooley’s” where the men of the town get together everyday and sit at the main, long table in the middle of the restaurant. The table is called “The Table of Truth and Knowledge” and it’s where all the men gather ‘round and solve all of the world’s problems. We walked in and it instantly reminded me of that scene in “Animal House” when Boone, Flounder, Pinto and Eric Stratton walk into the “Delta Lake Club.” Here there are four white guys walking into an all black nightclub and all eyes in the club immediately turn to the new people in the room. Well, that was the feeling Kaleb and I experienced. But, as soon as we asked the men at the table if we could join them they gladly welcomed us and started talking with us about anything and everything. Obviously most of them wanted to know where we were from and what we were doing in Booneville. They didn’t ask in a defensive way but more out of curiosity. Kaleb and I could tell these people are just good people who appreciated someone taking interest in their story, area, history and culture. We felt completely at ease around these men and enjoyed hearing their stories and learning about the area. We stayed for a while and decided to have lunch. All of the food at this restaurant was fried and provided nothing really healthy or nutritious and about 95% of the people in that restaurant (and what we have noticed in the city so far) were smoking. But, that’s part of this area and I am not here to judge but rather convey what I am seeing and experiencing during my time here. After lunch, we went to the grocery store to get some food for our stay and drove around the area to see as much as we could. It started raining that day (and this was a sign of more things to come) but we made the most of our drive around town to see and learn as much as we could. Before stopping at the grocery store (the only one in town, has exorbitant prices and a really bad selection of fresh fruits and vegetables), I wanted to snap a picture of the barn seen below. So, I asked the property owner if I could take a photo of his barn and he said, “knock yourself out, son.” It was great and brought a smile to my face as it, once again, proved that these people are more friendly and welcoming than we could have ever expected. In the post tomorrow I share our first weekend in Booneville, which includes a semi load of free furniture and Kaleb and me going to an “old timey” Baptist Church (how, lightening didn’t strike that church is still perplexing to me). See you tomorrow, Seth