HUNGER: 1934 Version

Alice was only fourteen when she got a job at a café in Vancouver, B.C., but she was a “big girl” as they used to say, and most folks took her for sixteen or eighteen.  She was earning $4 a week putting in twelve-hour days.  Tips were unheard of in 1934; for all her hard work Alice never received one tip.  But she was grateful for her wage; she knew there were lots of other desperate girls who’d gladly take her job for even less pay.

Alice proved to be a generous girl with a kind heart.  She found a way to give plenty of ‘tips’ in those hard years and they were gratefully received.

You see, in the Thirties ‘assistance’ was only doled out to married men with dependents; there were no relief payments for single men – and very few jobs available.  So a lot of single men ‘rode the rails’ as hoboes, going back and forth across the country hoping to find a bit of work– a few hours here or there, enough to survive another day or two.  Come late fall when work was even more scarce quite a few of them headed for Vancouver to spend the winter months where they weren’t as apt to freeze to death.  But they could –and did– starve.

The café where Alice worked served a lot of sandwiches during the average day.  Most of them sold for five or ten cents.  According to Alice, if you bought a 20¢ sandwich you ate really well: open-faced roast beef smothered in gravy.

It was the practice to cut crusts off the bread before making the sandwiches.  (I’m not sure if only her café did that, or if it was a general practice at that time?)  This gave Alice an idea.  She began to save all those crusts and divvy them up into little brown bags; these she offered to hungry men at the back door after work.

Word spread quickly  and hungry fellows started to line up and wait for her to appear at 7pm when the café closed.  She says none of the men ever gave her or each other any trouble; they waited respectfully and didn’t scrap over the food in spite of their dire need.

Of course her boss took note and grumbled about these men hanging around out back, but she persuaded him that he’d never get business from them anyway, broke as they all were, and the fellows desperately needed the food.  It was a shame to throw perfectly good crusts in the garbage when some of these men hadn’t eaten for days.  So he allowed her to continue.

Alice says some evenings she saw up to 100 men standing in those lines, hoping to receive a little bag of crusts.  Some would even arrive three hours early so as not to miss out.  She knew they were starving; some were so weak they keeled over right in front of her.  So she kept on doing what she could but there were only so many bags.

Have you counted your blessings today?

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5 thoughts on “HUNGER: 1934 Version

      • How very true – I was pondering that – I have about anything I would choose to eat in my electric refrigerator in my kitchen in the house God has given me…. and on and on. Easy to take things for granted if we don’t think about it and acknowledge where the blessings come from.

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      • “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” Hab. 3:17-18

        Easy to recite now, in a land of plenty, but I pray I’d still feel this way even if we were living through those harsh conditions.

        As I’ve studied the era, I’ve concluded the Thirties were a kind of “washing” God put the world through after the moral lapse of the “roaring Twenties.” Granted, we brought some of it on ourselves: people put their hope & trust in mammon and lost it all. But the natural disasters of severe weather & drought brought down what the Wall Street Crash didn’t; together these brought a lot of folks back to “what really counts.”

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      • Very true – and for the South you can throw in the boll weevil in the first part of the century. Many of the folks in the South weren’t affected by the market crash – they had been in a depression for years before that.

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