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Rosie’s Place
Offering Women Shelter and Hope
by Andrea Cleghorn

From Chapter 3: Friday Lunch (continued)

Many of the women do not come to socialize; they don’t even pay much attention to what they are eating. Some are clearly looking for a comfortable place to be left alone. They may be exhausted, hung over, sick, struggling with an addiction. The policy is to treat them respectfully. Staff members are supposed to give them an opportunity to get help but not to force anything on them.
Other women are looking for a fight. The staff member at the door tries to spot problems and to weed out women who are acting unpredictable or abusive. Abuse, whether it is verbal or physical, is not tolerated. If there is an occurrence in the dining room, a staff member talks to the women involved and gets it settled, which may mean asking a woman to leave or barring her from Rosie’s for a certain length of time.
Over the years, clear guidelines have been set up. Staff members are posted at the doors to monitor who is coming in and to make sure nothing is going out—flower vases or highchairs, for example.
If there are enough volunteers, one person is assigned to handing out items from the drawers behind the main counter. The drawers are stocked with various items: packets of instant decaffeinated coffee, tea bags, and artificial sweeteners; turquoise books of matches and silver cardboard ashtrays; tampons and sanitary napkins; three styles of condoms. The drawer that attracts the most interest, however, is what is known as the “hygiene drawer,” which houses a collection of soaps and shampoos free for the asking. If there is anything in the hygiene drawer, a handful of women can turn into something resembling a stampede. Friends of Rosie’s have learned to collect small, sample-size bottles for the hygiene drawer.
“Got any perfume?” one guest says, coming up and looking in as the drawer is opened.
“I want one of those soaps . . . not that one!” one woman says, pointing. When she gets what she’s looking for, several others ask for the same thing. They are out of luck—it was, for today, one of a kind.
The sweet-smelling drawer may be overflowing or empty. Today it is full of tiny vials of perfume, plastic jars of moisturizer, paper-wrapped soaps, small containers of matching brands of shampoo and conditioner, and little bottles of bright green mouthwash. It is a trip around the world to read the labels of the donated items, most of which volunteers have picked up from hotels during their travels: the Grand Canyon, Tokyo, Nairobi, Paris.
Sometimes the drawer contains combs, shoe horns, shower caps, sewing kits. For fairness, there is a limit of two items per person. The guests have to make a choice: shampoo and conditioner? moisturizer and soap? Tomorrow there may be better brands or more choices or no choices at all.
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