The Book (and stuffed animal) Tour

It’s easy to take the town you have lived in for a long time for granted, to fantasize about how green and lush the grass must grow over the next hill. I’ve been trying lately to look at Pensacola with fresh eyes, to see things as they are rather than how they used to be years ago, or how I guess they might be. This experiment is illuminating, and I am finding that the dinky little town is quite a nice place to be.

Every year the stuffed animals that reside on bookcase shelves upstairs all year come down to spend a few days underneath what we’ve always called the Teddy Bear Christmas tree. Last week, while Buck and I were loading up the van with books to deliver around town, it occurred to me that the only one who pays any attention to the bears these days is me. Just about everyone else has grown up.

So I went back to the phones. Who in town could find a good use for some bears, a rabbit and a reindeer? The first place I called was the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen. They were organized at a local restaurant back in 1983 and from the beginning their mission has been to “reach out to homeless men, women and children in an effort to meet their needs both spiritually and materially.” Loaves and Fishes serves close to 5,000 meals to the homeless each month. They have an Emergency Family Shelter (opened in May, 1991) which provides emergency shelter for up to 10 families, for up to three weeks at a time. Their website notes: “This short-term crisis relief includes private rooms, cafeteria style meals, parenting classes, life skills classes, counseling, clothing vouchers, transportation for house hunting and referrals to supporting agencies, as well as referrals to our own Transitional Housing Program.  The shelter also offers over night stays for single females, depending on availability.”

Bobbie, a volunteer and self-described “traffic director,” told me they could absolutely use the stuffed animals to provide comfort and entertainment to children in families at the Shelter.

The sparkling clean, welcoming Loaves and Fishes was our first stop. Bobbie greeted us, and it was great to shake her hand.

Another drop-off was the loading dock of the West Florida Public Library, where we left off some books for the annual “Friends of the Library” sale.

Our last stop was to deliver several boxes of cookbooks I’ve been collecting for the last 40 years at Pensacola State College’s award-winning culinary arts program. A friendly staff person, Jan, met us at the loading dock with a rolling cart. I walked through the swinging double doors with her into a working industrial kitchen and was suffused in the warm, yeasty aroma of freshly baking bread. Buck and I learned that the culinary arts students prepare lunches twice a week and several dinners during each academic term. Members of the community sign up for a randomly selected lottery for a chance to attend.  Jan got my email address and has already sent me all the particulars.

The house is a little lighter now, and we had great fun learning new things about Pensacola — a town we thought we knew up one side and down the other.

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