By Tania Hammer
For about a year, everyone who is Sam’s friend got Facebook updates like the following:
“Effy’s sleeping. Is anyone going to Costco? I need paper towels.”
“Hi, is anyone going shopping? I need a couple of things—soup mix, onions, garlic . . .”
“Listen up friends, can you help me? I’ve been at home for hours, and I need a few things from the pharmacy.”
And on it went. Anyone on Samantha and Yossi Wiseman’s friends list on Facebook knows that they have a wonderful, happy family, that they are the parents of an adorable special-needs child, and that, just a month ago, they had their second child, Yitzy. Effy is the sweetest little two-year-old and it is wonderful to see pictures of him growing and progressing. However, sandwiched between these delightful pictures were the above pleas for help.
I met Samantha and her mom, Nancy, years ago on a weekend for divorced women and their children. Samantha is a bit older than my daughter and they got along well. Sam has an indomitable, upbeat spirit and is a very friendly, bubbly, funny person. It’s really hard not to like her! For many years we went in and out of each other’s lives, and when we re-met on Facebook it was a chance for us to catch up. Nancy is a very proud grandma now; she dotes on her grandchildren, who give her so much nachas. Indeed, after Sam posted the above requests, some were shortly followed by “Thanks Safti, you are the best grandma!”
Truthfully, after a while, I had thoughts going through my head such as, “C’mon Sam, get up and out, take Effy for a ride in the car, or a walk to the shops yourself. He would enjoy the fresh air.” As aware as I am of young moms (having been there myself) and as aware as I am of kids with special needs (as I have been in the field for most of my career), I was having enough of these posts. We all occasionally ask friends if they can do shopping favors; we are all tired and spent after a long day, whether at work or hanging out with the children. Yet this almost weekly barrage of requests had me thinking that maybe she just wanted to stay in the house all day, which didn’t sit well with me either.
In retrospect, this was probably one of the narrowest streams of thought I have ever had. And I am truly sorry for this admission. There is no shame in asking for help; there is shame, however, in being critical of other people. Although Sam and her husband have graciously forgiven me, this shame is what propelled me to help them out. I hope this life lesson precedes any other judgment I might make of any other person.
About six months ago, Sam posted the following: “Look what I found! Go to www.carolinescart.com. This is a special shopping cart for disabled people, and maybe now Effy can go shopping. It’s $1,000, who wants to buy it for me?” I think my heart dropped on the floor. All the pleas for help with shopping and errands were not because Sam was lazy, but because Effy couldn’t fit into a regular shopping cart! A stroller can’t fit much shopping inside, so Effy needed to stay home. I told Sam in a private message that I would try to help her out.
Picture this conversation with your child: “Sorry, you can’t come to the supermarket. You can’t fit in the regular cart, and you can’t walk, so we have to stay home. I will go when you are sleeping, or ask friends if they can pick up a few things.” I can’t imagine that conversation with my daughter, who now goes shopping for me! Yet this is what Sam and her husband must tell their child every day. This is the Wisemans’ reality and, coupled with the fact that Effy can’t fend for himself at all, let alone deal with shopping, their daily conversations must seem like a foreign language to most families. It is a language learned through life experience. When Sam posted the Caroline’s Cart site, she was, in effect, translating the “foreign language” to something her friends could understand, as if to say, “Here’s something all of you could help us with.”
I went to my regular supermarket to ask my friend, the CEO of that market, if he could consider getting a cart from Caroline’s Cart. However, after a week of research, he was truly sorry to report that the answer was no. I know he has a huge heart and is generous beyond compare, and his answer was painful to him. But it started an interesting dialogue. “There are kids who would like to go shopping but can’t fit into a regular shopping cart? Who knew?” I discussed the matter with him at length, making him aware of a couple of kids in our community whom he rarely sees in his supermarket because they can’t go shopping. This conversation led to other similar dialogues regarding people with disabilities, and I’m sure he will do all he can to address the needs of this population. He said he was ordering electric shopping scooters for older customers who can’t walk. I admire him for that. His will be the first kosher supermarket in our area to have those!
After similar discussions with Tzvi Bloom and Meir Gold at Seasons Supermarkets and Yaakov Gade, CEO at Cross River Bank, Effy can now go shopping with his family. It was a group effort with many people involved, committed to one goal—the purchase of a Caroline’s Cart shopping cart. Finally, Sam’s request was granted.
Caroline’s Cart was designed by Drew Ann and David Long, parents of a special-needs child, Caroline. Facing the same plight as Effy, they couldn’t go shopping with Caroline because she couldn’t fit into a regular shopping cart. They took the body of a child’s car seat and molded it into a shopping cart, designed to fit into supermarket aisles. It’s really quite simple, yet absolutely brilliant. It can hold someone up to 200 pounds and is easy to maneuver. The video on their website shows a cheerful Caroline going through the aisles of their local supermarket, watching happily as her proud parents do their shopping. I must say that when I went to Seasons to see the shopping cart for myself, I was bursting with joy, thinking of the many happy occasions on which Effy and his friends will be able to use it.
When you see Effy out shopping, say hi, because he will be enjoying this new experience! If you would like to get a Caroline’s Cart shopping cart in your supermarket, go to the website and have a look. v
Tania Hammer is a community activist and a social networker for Caring Professionals, a home care agency in Brooklyn and Queens (718-897-2273, ext. 171). Tania can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.