By Jack Goodrich
Joseph’s Coat is a community free store in St Paul. Its mission is to provide goods and services to those in need, within an environment of dignity and respect. Over a thousand individuals use Joseph’s Coat’s services each week. The store has clothes, toiletries, and small household items. Everything is free, with some limits placed on certain items. The store is run by two paid employees and over a hundred volunteers. This summer I was one of them through FUS’s summer social justice internship program.
When my internship started, I thought of it as a way to serve my community and a higher goal of social justice, making a few bucks along the way, of course. It turned out there was a lot of moving boxes. Not that I don’t like moving boxes, or that me moving boxes didn’t ultimately further the goal of social justice, but I always thought of social justice as more of a lofty ideal than the menial labor that was my job. Let me explain. By moving the boxes from somebody’s car into the store, I am the first part of the well-oiled machine that is Joseph’s Coat. Once inside, someone else will empty the box and sort the items inside into various sections, separating useful items from unwanted ones. The shelves will be stocked so that the next day when people come to shop there will be enough stuff. Just working at one part of the machine doesn’t give you the full picture.
Social justice is about systemic change and furthering individuals’ dignity and freedom. While at Joseph’s Coat we probably didn’t have any sort of huge lasting impact on our customer’s lives, those supplies help them go on day to day. How do you go to a job interview if you don’t have a shirt on your back, or deodorant? It’s about basic human dignity. Everything they do at Joseph’s Coat is about getting people to a place where they can at least have a little dignity. While the small things like moving boxes don’t feel like much, they do help someone and they do further social justice, more than just talking and thinking ever do.
This summer I have been thinking about social justice a lot and my conclusions are this; the little things matter. The little things like carrying boxes, like holding the door, like stocking shelves. Like clothes, like soap and shampoo, like diapers. My job at Joseph’s Coat may have just been a bunch of little things, but they all served a greater cause. Thank you to all who put on this summer social justice internship; it gave me something great to do this summer. It’s been a privilege to work at Joseph’s Coat. Doing the little things.