There are covers missing from the bed. With our firewood stacks dwindling, I had hoped I could skimp on the woodstove tonight. Now that the temperature is down to three below and blankets are missing, I’m thinking otherwise.
It’s not that the blankets are missing, exactly. They just happen to be elsewhere—in a snowbank, in front of our church. The Bagpiper is there, you see, doing her fourth annual 24-hour “freeze-out.” From noon of one day to noon of the next, they hold a public vigil and fundraiser for our community’s food bank and heating fuel assistance fund. She and her stalwart companions stand in the cold, waving cheerily to passing locals and wary outlet shoppers alike. They invite donations of food and money, but they also invite conversation—a chance to tell the stories of our struggling neighbors, to show poverty’s closeness and complexity.
This year, two hardy souls have elected to join her for the vigil’s span. Others come as they can: the pastor and her (quite pastoral) Bernese Mountain Dog, who opened the vigil with a prayer and a heartfelt “wrooo,” church members who come bearing crockpots of home-made stew to feed the vigilants (vigilantes?), families and friends to weigh and sort the food after donors drop it off. A cameraman came by to capture the event for the local news, thereby drumming up further awareness and support. I stayed for a while myself—I wanted to make sure the Bagpiper got set up properly with her full survival kit.
What does one wear for an 24-hour vigil on February? Wool socks and good winter boots are a must, along with some seriously thick mittens. The aforementioned blankets are crucial, too, particularly in the wee hours, when the need to attract attention gives way to the need to conserve as much body heat as possible. A proper winter hat is also de-rigor (“de” being short for “defense against” and “rigor” being short for “rigor mortis”). The central feature of this year’s survival kit, however, is a pair of second-hand Carhartt winter coveralls.
The Bagpiper got them at the thrift shop next to the food bank where she works. Gladys, the thrift store manager, rescued the coveralls from the discard pile and told the Bagpiper to take them for her “Big Overnight Thing.” It was a long shot, but she tried them on anyway. Miraculously, they fit her 6’2” frame just right. It was Providence. It was Destiny. It was WARM.
Carhartts have become a fashion statement in the last few years, but around here they’re still just good sturdy clothes for hard-working folks. In fact, I get a bit jealous now and then, because the Bagpiper can wear clothing from their men’s line, and I can never find anything short enough and, um…rounded enough to fit my frame. Today, though, I don’t begrudge her anything. I’m absolutely thrilled—and deeply comforted—that she’s wearing something rugged and well-made that will truly keep her warm. Her work is risky--one donor used the word "lunacy,"--but vitally important to the hundreds of poor, cold, hungry people she serves. Her willingness to literally “put herself out there” means the world to them. Her ability to get through this vigil safely means the world to me.
I hope the food bank and fuel fund receive oodles of donations. I hope they get lots of press coverage, too. And I hope my Bagpiper comes back home, weary but cozy in her coveralls, and brings back my blankets to me!