The woman was wild-eyed, yelling to anyone that would listen.
“Three hours!” she yelled. “Those Somalians have been in there for three hours! Those are our shoes they’re taking!”
The woman was one of the hundreds in Kennedy Park Friday morning waiting in line for free used shoes, donated by a charitable local business. I covered the event Friday and wrote about it for Saturday’s paper and I’m kind of amazed at the reaction it got and to the reaction to another package we ran this weekend.
Amazed, but not surprised, mind you.
I thought I should maybe elaborate a little, explain just what I saw.
In front of me, there was a line, hundreds of people — mostly white but black, too— stretching from the center of the park to its southern edge.
At the center, there was a big cube truck surrounded by cardboard boxes. A group of people, mostly African American, sorted through the boxes, looking for shoes that fit.
Most of the people in line looked anxious, happy to have a chance to get some decent shoes but worried the shoes would be gone before the reached the front. Most were in good spirits — it was a nice day in the park, after all.
But a few were pissed, like the wild-eyed lady. They complained that the Somalis were taking all the good shoes, that they had no respect, that they were being allowed to sort through the piles for three hours.
Never mind that organizers limited shoe giveaways to four pairs per person or that the giveaway had been going for less than an hour. They insisted that those Somalis were hogging all the shoes.
But there was more. Farther to the north, a group had gathered around the Salvation Army canteen truck to get free coffee and sandwiches. While they talked, sipping their coffee, I noticed each one had a shoe box tucked under the arm.
There wasn’t a Somali among them, and yet somehow they’d all managed to get their free shoes before anyone else.
Reaction to the story was typical. We received a lot of comments from folks complaining that we somehow hid the real truth, that un-American hordes had descended on the shoe giveaway, making sure that decent, hardworking folks were shut out. Why didn’t I report that?
That’s not what I saw.
I saw people standing in line to get free shoes, just people, and far too many of them. I saw a great thing, local people and businesses working hard to make sure those less fortunate have decent footwear. What matters is that they were less fortunate, and that they needed those shoes.
And in the end, they were all just people.