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?