Clarice Thompson is a younger and more subtle Iris Apfel with sparks of life springing from her purple and orange Rosie the Riveter bandana. Because she is such an elegant and fashionable senior, you never would guess that Clarice wears a bandana because she can’t afford to get her hair done.
Boston Cares is always working to ensure there are opportunities for our volunteers to help people meet basic daily needs, but sometimes it’s hard to get excited about basic needs such as serving meals. Enter: The Women’s Lunch Place (WLP). A Boston Cares’ partner for over 10 years, the Women’s Lunch Place is a women’s day shelter that emphasizes the dignity of each individual woman. Clarice has been a WLP regular for 6 years now, each day coming in for a healthy, freshly made lunch and taking half home for dinner.
Clarice explained that she worked at a major Boston employer for more than 30 years and was planning on retiring and “getting the balloons and the gold watch,” but was instead let go when computer skills became required. This happened just when she started to get grey hair; after that, she said, “no one wanted me.” Not only was Clarice a hard worker, she also was a volunteer with her church and helping at homeless shelters.
After Clarice lost her job, she fell into gambling and it “took her life away”. Things were so severe that she was almost evicted from her home and had to sign over her finances to her priest to ensure her rent would be paid. She explained that gambling was an addiction that controlled her; it made her lie, it made her steal, it made her a different person who would yell at strangers. Water clouded her eyes when she recalled going into Stop and Shop and coming out with a pack of hot dogs in her bag.
Clarice said that no one in her family knows she goes to the WLP because “it’s a shame in my family – I don’t want my kids to see”. Additionally, no one in the church Clarice has been regularly attending for 43 years knows she needs help. “I’m ashamed to tell my church” she said, “I love church but sometimes church people bring you down”. Clarice used to clean the church bathrooms for free every week before her knee surgery, and to this day she goes with her church and serves food to the homeless once a month.
But Clarice is not a broken woman; she is a woman with dreams. She laments that she hasn’t been able to get a job and work, and choked up when she looked to the sky and said “oh for me to get up and go to work, I’d be floating on a cloud”.
Additionally, although Clarice feels too ashamed to talk about her financial situation to most, she glowed when she told me that the Women’s Lunch Place is a safe place for her, a “comfort zone” where she can be herself and not worry about being judged. “The volunteers and employees have so much patience and I really appreciate that” she said, “I never hear the volunteers complain but they must get tired!”
On top of feeling safe at the WLP, Clarice said that she has made some friends, friends who know her financial situation and accept her nonetheless. As a special treat, Clarice saved up and bought tickets to a musical for her WLP friend Gwen and herself. As my time with Clarice came to the end she encouraged me to work while I could and apologized for talking so much. We parted with a hug and as the WLP lunchroom cleared and the smell of coconut curry lingered in the air.
-Marina Lavender, 2015 Summer AmeriCorps VISTA Special Projects Volunteer Engagement Associate