Heard on the Hill – March 2017

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Geoff Merrill of Schlep It and Mark Lilly with The Farm Bus.

There is a commonly quoted ancient curse that may or may not be Chinese (or Scottish?) and may or may not be ancient. “May you live in interesting times,” it warns. I’m not sure which one of us opened this particular fortune cookie, but the times we are living now are certainly among the most interesting I can recall.

Many of us here on the Hill, and from the view from my Facebook page many on planet Earth, are experiencing interesting times. While the majority of my neighbors may be questioning their political beliefs, climate change, or recent “Bachelor” outcomes, we are mostly safe from some of the most interesting or horrifying things happening today.

The devastating violence in Syria has resulted in the largest refugee crisis since World War II. The recent attempt by the part-time White House resident to ban people fleeing the cruelties and horrors inflicted by their own government has pleased some supporters but has outraged many.

The United States has been resettling refugees from many different countries, and those who work with refugees are unsure what will happen next. A local consortium of Capitol Hill-based congregations has been collaborating to support a refugee family recently arrived from Afghanistan. The idea to assist with the resettlement of a family surfaced during one of the regular discussions among leaders of the Hill’s faith communities and quickly became a shared project uniting seven congregations.

The volunteers came from Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church, Capitol Hill United Methodist, Christ Church Washington Parish, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Hill Havurah, Lutheran Church of the Reformation, and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

What began as an idea over the summer quickly became an all-out effort led by coordinators Kathryn Tobias, representing the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, Karen Getman of St. Mark’s, and Brendan Danaher from Capitol Hill United Methodist Church. The Lutheran immigration and Refugee Service is one of the receiving organizations for those who come to the United States without a sponsor or family member.

The Capitol Hill group, who dubbed their efforts the Good Neighbor Project, worked with the local affiliate, Lutheran Social Services of the National Capitol Area. They received training on working with refugee populations with the goal to get the newcomers independent as quickly as possible. They organized teams focusing on housing, furnishings, employment, and healthcare.
The family arrived from Afghanistan in mid-January, just three days before the current president took office. The Good Neighbors were anxious for the family to arrive before the change in administrations, and it seems their concerns were legitimate.

The family (who wishes to not be identified) consists of a young married couple who are parents to a five-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy. They have settled in a Prince George’s County town. The five-year-old has started school and reportedly loves it!

Both parents are enrolled in ESL classes, though they each used English professionally in Kabul. The husband assisted US forces on the ground and due to his involvement became a target. The family left behind everything and everyone they knew for the chance of a better, safer life here. According to Danaher, “He has already sacrificed more for the United States than most Americans do.”

The organizers commented on the tremendous outpouring of contributions for the family from Hill residents and those in the Prince George’s community. There are a few other refugee families in the daughter’s new school, and they are slowly becoming acclimated. They have had many play dates, trips to museums, home dinners, and other forms of hospitality.

The Good Neighbors readied two other homes for refugee families but they are taking this moment to breathe and reflect. Many of the volunteers are enjoying friendships made during this process and are pondering next steps. This article will have gone to press before the latest Executive Order will have been issued, so it is anyone’s guess as to what is next for this group and the refugees they seek to help.

The Good Neighbors group has reached its capacity for accommodating volunteers and donations. If this story has inspired you, you can reach out to Lutheran Social Services of the National Capitol Region, www. lssnca.org, and learn how you can become a volunteer. These times are not going to be less interesting soon, so your help will be appreciated.

Veggies Delivered to Your Door … by Trike
Yiddishisms pepper our language with perfectly evocative words. Kvetch. Chutzpah. Shlemiel. The act of speaking them gives me great joy, and I am not alone. One of my favorites is schlep, which refers to the drudgery involved in hauling things from one place to another. No one talks about schlepping a lovely bouquet of flowers or an ice cream cone. We are more likely to schlep things like groceries, hockey equipment, and worst of all, laundry.

Local entrepreneur Geoff Merrill has adopted this most-perfect word and is ready to help businesses outsource the schlepping with climate- and traffic-friendly, electric-assist cargo tricycles. Schlep CitySmart Logistics (www.schlep-it.com) is about to hit the roads to help companies and individuals move their stuff around efficiently.

Electric assist cargo bikes are in use in Germany and The Netherlands and have been popping up in Boston and of course Portland. Merrill had four trikes made and is looking for ways to help people move stuff from one place to another easily and without negatively impacting traffic or the environment.

Merrill has partnered with Mark Lilly, who made a name for himself in sustainable agriculture circles. Several years ago he had the inspired idea to take on old school bus and fill it with vegetables and bring fresh local produce to people where they live rather than the opposite concept. The Farm Bus became a talked-about idea in sustainable agriculture circles, and he had his Warholian 15 minutes of fame appearing on Rachel Ray, the BBC, and in other media.

Lilly has run a CSA for the Capitol Hill neighborhood for several years. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. In a traditional CSA participants give a farmer a certain amount of money to purchase a share at the beginning of a growing season. They receive weekly deliveries or more likely they pick up the goods at a delivery spot. If the deer eat the tomatoes, no one gets tomatoes. Such is the life of the farmer.

Lilly runs his CSA differently, spreading the risk and the rewards. He sources produce, baked goods, meats, and dairy from farms around the Richmond area and brings them to the Hill. He was offering delivery by truck last year, which was a challenge. Parking and traffic can sometimes make you want to just go home and order pizza.

Enter Merrill’s trikes! This season the CSA delivery will be done via trikes and will, it is hoped, reduce the woes and aggravation of getting around the city. Both men envision using the cargo unit as an advertising platform. Currently it advertises the CSA, and we watched several people stop and snap photos when they saw it parked at Eastern Market. The flashy green bows Lilly has fashioned to the back of the vehicle certainly helped.

There is still time to sign up and start receiving fresh local food right at your door. Learn more at www.thefarmbus.csaware.com. The spring/summer CSA season begins on March 28 and runs for 24 weeks. Participants can choose a weekly or biweekly delivery. There will still be a pick-up option for those who prefer the communal experience. But that option will, of course, require some schlepping.

 

Jen DeMayo has been a waitress, an actor, and a puppeteer. She worked for many years for the Atlas Performing Arts Center, which has resulted in her being a relentless H Street booster/streetcar apologist. Originally from the New York-New Jersey area, she is one of the many who whine endlessly about DC’s lack of good bagels and pizza. She is mom to two boys who attend DCPS (off the Hill). No matter what she may end up accomplishing in her life, she is sure that her obituary headline will say she was the founder of Moms on the Hill. Contact Jen atjendemayo@gmail.com.