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FRAN ALEXANDER: Mayday, Mayday, MayDay

Responding to the call, volunteers help their neighbors by Fran Alexander | February 23, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Repeated three times, the urgency of "Mayday" is known as a distress call used in life-threatening emergencies. Derived from the French word "m'aider," it means "help me."

Sometimes extraordinary things come together in extraordinary times that might never have been forged had folks remained securely humming along in their usual lives. On May 5, 2020, in the earlier days of the covid pandemic, the MayDay Community Kitchen had its beginnings. The sparks that started and have kept this organization going and growing were ignited in a few people whose cooking jobs had been furloughed.

Knowing the need for food in a community is one thing. Rolling up one's sleeves and starting to cook hundreds of meals is quite another. Alex Tripodi and several other cooks began to do just that, utilizing donated food. At first they had no way of knowing how long their volunteerism would be needed or if their efforts could outlast their unemployment. Now seeing the continuing exponential growth of the need to keep people from going hungry, and with the extraordinary help from dozens of volunteers, MayDay plans to keep going. And that will be possible as long as the community keeps helping.

At this point, these people, all unpaid volunteers, are producing and delivering from 100 to 150 free meals daily 6 times a week to people who need food. In addition, they take 30 to 35 breakfasts daily to the 7 Hills Homeless Center for people in the nearby camp.

Tripodi emphasized that food acquisition would not be possible without MayDay's partnering with local food pantries, gardeners, restaurants, the Historic St. James Missionary Baptist Church, Tri Cycle Farms, the Fayetteville Friends Quaker community, Ozark Natural Foods Co-op, the Salvation Army, Life Source, the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, OMNI Center for Peace, Justice, and Ecology (which handles the finances under its non-profit status) and others.

Ryan Tinsley coordinates food procurement and recovery of the ingredients that make up these meals, and fortunately the cooks are creative, resourceful and abhor waste. Wrapping one's mind around the magnitude of their production with whatever food is available certainly provides those "loaves and fishes" moments that life shows us from time to time.

The generous sharing of their kitchen by the Trinity United Methodist Church on Sycamore Street in Fayetteville has provided the primary space where most meals are prepared. There are also MayDay volunteers cooking at the Hillcrest Towers kitchen, providing meals for 30 to 40 of those residents as well.

For those unable to get to the church to pick up their meals, MayDay will deliver. Volunteer delivery drivers are always needed for taking meals out or bringing procured food back to the kitchens. And for those who don't cook, but want to learn, they will teach you how while you are helping.

MayDay is hoping to get a tax-exempt status and somehow find funding to afford to pay a staff that can sustain and build on the work they have done thus far. The basic philosophy seems to be that the givers and receivers of food form a mutual aid pact because both benefit, and there is no border or line dividing the two. I sense that for everyone involved, this is a "two hands clapping" celebration of each other. On one hand, any of us could find ourselves at a point in life in need of some kind of help. On the other hand, most of us want to do meaningful work and see validation in positive results. Indeed, what goes around comes around.

An entry on the Mayday Community Kitchen Facebook page summed up well the mission that these cooks and volunteers have for themselves: "We like to keep it simple. We are a group of people who believe that others shouldn't go hungry. We have gone through lots of changes as we grow, but our mission has never changed. Everyone deserves food, delicious food served with pride."

A Mayday distress call has absolute priority over all other transmissions on land, air, or sea. Perhaps we as a community should model a similar priority for our citizens and help provide funding for their care when and where they need our help the most.

And for those who like to mail checks, send them with "MayDay Kitchen" in the memo line to the OMNI Center at 3274 N. Lee Ave., Fayetteville AR 72703.

Fran Alexander is a Fayetteville resident with a longstanding interest in the environment and an opinion on almost anything else. Email her at [email protected]

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