Abby Mendelson’s new collection of stories, “Reunion: Americans in Exile,” chronicles the lives of Americans torn from their places and past.
The 16 stories feature military personnel, missing persons, foreign service officers and models. The plots are timeless and could easily have happened in the past year, as the lives of many Americans have been torn apart by COVID-19.
Like so many others who watched neighbors lose their jobs and community members suffered from food and housing insecurity, Mendelson, who was part of a group at high risk of catching the virus, found himself in ask, “What can I do? ”
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“I couldn’t work on the front line,” he said. “I had no medical training; I can’t even put a bandage on.
The answer came to the writer through his profession. When finished, he decided to publish “Reunion” himself and donate the proceeds to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
“It is not a Jewish book, but [the characters are] involved in tikkun olam. So I was like, “What can I do to get everyone behind? He asked. “Lisa Scales (President and CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank) is an old friend of mine. I have never heard anyone say a single word about the food bank. Let them have the money. They need the money.
The book is not a COVID-19 project, Mendelson said. He has been working on the stories for 11 years, but turned his full attention to the project two years ago, after completing the text for the tabletop book “Spirit to Spirit: A Portrait of Pittsburgh Jazz in the New Century”.
Mendelson likened his work to a submarine with several parts. The ship, he explained, has a writing room and a creation room, and then there’s the “what are you going to do with it now?” bedroom.
The more he observed the lingering effects of the pandemic, the more his concern grew, he said, for those whose stories never get publicized.
The Squirrel Hill resident said the plight of some people living under the radar was highlighted in “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America”, by Barbara Ehrenreich, who investigated the 1996 law. on welfare reform and its impact on the working poor. . He said his family experienced a similar situation as immigrants two generations ago.
“Look at the border now,” Mendelson said. “We have something like 10 or 20 million people in this country who are undocumented, who are underinsured and underserved and make sure they don’t pay $ 7 for tomatoes.”
Mendelson is quick to note that people who use services like food banks are not looking for handouts.
“One of my theories about being a human being – no one wants handouts,” he said. “People want to win; that’s what we’re programmed to do.
Scales said the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank was excited to learn of Mendelson’s gift.
“When I got the call from Abby, out of the blue, I was just thrilled that he wanted to support the food bank in this way,” she said. “And that’s such an important way, isn’t it?” I mean, 100% of the profits! ”
The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank has a network of over 600 community partners, including pantries, soup kitchens, after-school programs, and senior centers.
Scales said the food bank had received calls from other nonprofits due to the pandemic, noting that food insecurity had increased by 31% since the start of COVID-19 and that there would be a increased demand from agencies like the food bank for several more years while society is returning to normal and people are returning to work.
The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank holds 11 in-car food distributions each month, sometimes serving up to 1,000 households at a time.
For Mendelson, the how and why of help was easy. He hopes his efforts will inspire others.
“I am an artist,” he says. “Writers write. If I were a carpenter, I would go to Habitat for Humanity. This is what we do. As a little challenge for other artists, I would say, do something and dedicate it to a charity like this because, God knows, they desperately need it. “
“Reunion: Americans in Exile” is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. PJC
David Rullo can be contacted at [email protected]