“I used to live a few blocks from here,” I said.
“It must have been a while ago.” Even though we were going 30 mph down Emerson Avenue, it was hard to get a good look at each house. The houses looked a little more tattered than the last time I saw them. Behind the shabbiness, I could still see how grand they once were. Some had turrets and reminded me of castles.
“Yes, it was when I was in my 20s.” We passed by the old North Branch Library which was having maintenance done. The library was designed in 1893, and according to Wikipedia, “When it was opened, it was claimed to be the nation’s first branch library to have open shelves so patrons could browse for books on their own, without asking librarians to retrieve them.” Books to be borrowed no longer live inside the building. Now companies are inside doing business.
“What was the place like where you lived?” my friend asked. We didn’t have time to go pass the house even though I would have liked to.
“I lived on the first floor, and my landlady lived on the second floor. She was in her 90s. Every time I went to pay the rent, we sat and chatted. She always said, ‘Don’t be afraid to work. I worked my entire life, and work never hurt me.’ She used to crochet covers for hangers.”
“My aunt used to do the same thing. I bet you have a lot of those in your closet!”
“I still have some,” I said, and every time I saw one, I thought of my landlady.
We arrived at our destination and parked in front of the Cookie Cart on West Broadway in North Minneapolis. When we got to the building, it was locked. Julie, one of the workers let us in. We introduced ourselves. A few people from our firm were volunteering that day. I signed up to help because the Cookie Cart comes to our church about once every four months. I knew the story of Sister Jean and how she helped the youth in North Minneapolis. Back in the 70s, Sister Jean invited the kids to come into her house, and she helped them with their homework. When they were finished, they made cookies. More and more children ended up coming to her home after school. Sister Jean was happy to help the kids stay off the streets. The children asked Sister Jean if they could sell the cookies. More and more children started to come to her house, and she ended up opening a store. The bakery is non-profit and employs kids between the ages of 15 to 18. Plans are being made to open up a shop in St. Paul.
Julie showed us to a platter of chocolate, oatmeal and raisin, and snicker doodle cookies to choose from. I took a chocolate cookie, and when I bit into it, I was surprised by how moist and flavorful it was. I was beginning to see why the place was so successful, and it was not only because of the cookies.
“First we will give you a tour. Then you will do some mock interviews with the kids, and then you can help with the cookies. But first let’s introduce ourselves,” said Julie as she passed out hair nets to the six of us. “Everyone must wear a hair net when they are in the building.”
We all stood in a circle. Julie introduced two of the kids who work there. The kids explained how when they started their job, there are classes that they need to take. One class teaches them how to handle their money. Julie asked us to say our first name, share what our first job was, and tell everyone what the first thing was that we bought with our money. Most of our first jobs were helping in the food industry at fast food restaurants, and the first thing some of us bought was a bike.
Being on West Broadway reminded me of when I was a kid. I remember Mom and I going to buy a beautiful blue wool coat about a mile down from where the Cookie Cart is today. Mom said we needed to buy it a little big so I could grow into it. Sometimes on Sundays Mom and I went to a Chinese restaurant that was down the street. Mom ordered food from a lady who stood behind a long wooden bar, as I swiveled around in a chair trying to see if I could get dizzy. Mom always ordered the same thing: chow mein, egg foo young, fried rice, egg rolls and fortune cookies. We waited in the dark restaurant while the food was being prepared and took it home in big, brown paper bags.
Our tour guide showed us around the Cookie Cart and explained that it was just remodeled.
“Where’s Sister Jean?” I asked.
“She’s at her house,” he said with a smile. I guessed that she doesn’t come around the place that much anymore.
A counter with a cash register, cookies lined up on shelves and tables were in the front part of the shop. Behind the counter is an office. We saw the kitchen, where the cookies are made, and the large cooler which are all on the first floor. The kids’ favorite new item was the new industrial-sized dishwasher. When we went upstairs we saw a room with a table and the original cookie cart that the kids used to wheel around the neighborhood to sell their cookies.
The volunteers were glad to see that we got a cheat sheet to help us with our mock interviews. I was happy to “interview” two young ladies who had been working at the Cookie Cart for almost a year. The interviews went very well and the girls were very confident. When we were done, we had some conversations, and I admired their enthusiasm for the future. They shared their goals and what kinds of careers they are interested in.
After the interviews, we went down to the kitchen. The kids helped us find aprons and told us how to put the cookies on the cookie sheets. One of the kids told me that I made a cookie perfectly! Being around all that positive energy lifted our spirits.
Every time the Cookie Cart visits our church, I will be happy to be one of their loyal customers.
In about the same degree as you are helpful, you will be happy. ~Karl Reiland