Broke shopping and the value of free Cody Lake Oct 13, 2020 · 2 min read

With $0.00 in my bank account, I went “shopping” in my Chicago community and did not come home empty-handed. Here is what I got without any money.

An origami kit. A tiny bundle of flowers. A handful of chili peppers. I did not spend a single dollar, or, break any laws for that matter.

I am not pulling the wool over your head. These special things were available to all. This is possible because of the strong undercurrent of community engagement here in my neighborhood of Humboldt Park.

No library card is necessary to pick out a book (or in my case, a paper-folding kit) from the corner stand that lives by a motto of take a book, put one back. The peppers I later used in a lentil dish were available for public picking on the perimeter of El Yunque community garden.

Absolutely anyone can, and should, get familiar with their community’s resources and the people that power them. Myself, I have gone to food pantries as someone in need of support (a client) and as a volunteer. What I can tell you is that a lot of effort goes into building small pockets of joy, and hope, into our neighborhoods.

So, as the pandemic rages on with no second stimulus in sight, politicians in Washington continue to squabble. Renewed meaning is found in the adage of “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” While I do not claim to know the path forward, I do know that there is something fundamentally right about community service, public gardens, and tiny book offerings that bring priceless value to our doorstep and to our neighbors.

Do not take my word for it. Finding the real value of community engagement is an activity that we all have a say in, so long as we are ready to do the work. I know there will be people inspired by, and grateful for the haul.

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Cody Lake


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