Valentine’s Grocery Bagging

I went grocery shopping after church today, realizing once again how talented I am at spending money on food. I’d gotten everything I needed (except aluminum foil, which I would remember on my way home), and I approached aisle five to pay and get out of that money-sucking, wonderful place.

This grocery store chain has a bag-it-yourself philosophy when it comes to grocery bagging, so when you see a couple gangly teens at the end of your conveyor belt it’s because they’re raising money. Today they wore purple t-shirts that said they were from a local church youth mission team. They were bagging painfully slowly, and I thought I might just turn them down and get out of there faster.

I was so often that gangly teenager, most often in a t-shirt advertising my volleyball club. The more fundraisers I participated in, the less my off-season volleyball would cost, so my parents signed me up for all the grocery bagging I could do. We’d have 5 or 6 hours shifts of bagging on the Friday and Saturday before any major holiday. You name the holiday, and I’ve probably bagged the groceries for it.

I have to admit, I got pretty good at it. It’s hard not to with that much practice. My hands and lips would get chapped, and the paper bags would give me little paper cuts on my arms. I’d get sore feet from standing and a sore back from bending over, but by the end of my tenure as a fundraising grocery bagger, I could bag quickly and with the best of the amateurs.

There’d be little old ladies who would size us up, knowing what this request from a person such as ourselves usually meant and say, “Okay, but just a few items per bag. I need to be able to lift them.” So we’d cram a few items in each bag and send her off with thirty little bags in her cart. There would be the people who enthusiastically accepted help with their hundreds of dollars of shrimp cocktail and tip $20. There would be the tired mothers who looked so grateful to accept but had to say they didn’t have any cash. But we did it anyway. Then there’d be the people that frustrated me, who said, “That’s okay. I’ll do it myself.”

What do you think I’m here for? 

So we’d stand at the end of the row, trying not to look idle or bored until the next person came through and would ask, “Can we bag your groceries for you?” None of this, “Would you like help…?” nonsense. “Please, give me something to do other than watch your food roll down the conveyor belt.”

Knowing my own grocery bagging prowess and seeing these boys struggle, I wanted to bag them myself. Plus, I only had two dollars in my wallet. That probably isn’t a decent tip anymore.

I could do it so much better and so much faster. 

But I remember being that kid. It wasn’t that long ago. 

But they really are so slow. And they’ll probably crush my bread and make the bags super heavy.

But that’s not a good reason. You’re just writing them off because you have assumptions about them, and you hate it when people do that to you. Maybe they’ll do a good job. And even if they don’t, you can just be nice.

So when the kid in the purple shirt asked me if I wanted help, I said that would be great. That might have been an exaggeration of my feelings on the situation. And when they asked, “Paper or plastic?” I said, “Both.” It was strange to be in the position of the adult accepting the help of the high schoolers, being called “ma’am”, and being the one to ask, “Where are you going on your mission trip?”

They didn’t know. Apparently the adults just pack them up in the car, and they don’t know where they’re going until they get there.

They’re stepping out in faith — or maybe their parents are making them. But you gotta give them some credit for spending their Valentine’s Day afternoon bagging groceries for a mystery service trip.

I didn’t watch as they bagged, but they were done by the time I’d paid, gotten my receipt, and met them at the end of the row. I gave them my measly two dollars, giving them the same spiel about how I wished I had more cash on me.

They told me to have a good day.

And I was glad for an opportunity to support the youth of the world, as other people supported me. Isn’t it nice to be able to treat people the way you were sometimes treated and the way you wish you were treated other times?

Not a bad way to practice what I preach.

When I loaded my groceries into my car, I realized that most of my groceries were fit into three, very heavy bags. And then there were the bananas in a separate bag, all alone.

So, they’ve got a bit to learn about grocery bagging, but at least they didn’t crush my bread.

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