Cascade Observations: Community connections

We celebrate a sports team’s great achievements by holding center-of-the-city parades, publish press releases when high school students win coveted Gates scholarships, and celebrate other high achievers with giant-sized billboards located on the busiest street in town. But how often do we jump up and down when a shy young man beats out stiff competition to win the Rosauers supermarket chain’s “Super Sacker” competition? Local Hood River bagger Jerry Sandoval did just that last week.

If you’ve ever tried packing your own groceries, you know that there is an art to keeping everything balanced and safe from spilling or being crushed. This year’s competitors in the “Super Sacker” challenge had to show their bagging skills in two rounds, first filling three paper sacks with groceries, followed by a second round filling three reusable bags. Participants were scored on speed, weight distribution and bagging techniques. Five other competitors challenged Jerry in the Hood River store’s trial, but he came up on top, earning a trip to the chain’s headquarters and the chance to face 19 other sackers from throughout the grocery chain’s territory. After training locally for several weeks, Jerry Sandoval traveled to Spokane, where he earned the title of Super Sacker along with a $1,000 check. I’m proud to say I knew him when he was a delightful 6-year old at Mid Valley Elementary, and later when he demonstrated great skills as an artist. I can take some credit for his artistic abilities, but no credit for his skills as a bagger. For that achievement, the credit is all his.

After learning of Jerry’s exciting news from Pam, a fabulous and friendly Rosauers checker, I left the store with a huge grin on my face, feeling fortunate to shop at a grocery store where I know the workers in many departments, from the bakery, to the produce department, to the meat counter. Many of the younger employees were my students. When I see them, I can recall many details about them, but not always their names. Aging teachers like me, now a bit forgetful, can only get away with calling former students “Honey” if the student is still in elementary school. Not so those with beards and tattoos who still remember the pizza we made together when they studied fractions in third grade.

Heading north on what’s usually a busy 12th Street overwhelmed with car traffic, I was met with orange traffic cones and friendly volunteers in green Day-Glo vests. Everyone was getting ready for Hood River’s first “Streets Alive” celebration. I quickly hurried home, parked my car, unloaded my well-bagged groceries, and returned to the Heights of Hood River on foot.

Several streets were completely closed off to car traffic, while others had limited car access. Everywhere, children and adults walked, danced and rode bicycles, with none of the usual fear associated with trying to cross one of the Heights’ busy streets. While a marimba band played, a 10-month old baby, happily protected by a bike helmet, rode his own little bike through the crowd as his conscientious mom looked on.

On my way back home, I passed by the newly renovated Children’s Park. More smiles. The park was full of kids and parents enjoying the diverse play structures. I found my daughter’s name plaque, a testimonial to our participation in the making of the first park so many years ago when she was in kindergarten. Today, we’ll be sure to spend many hours introducing her 10-month old son to the Children’s Park’s delightful structures, many just the right size for babies and toddlers.

I moved to this beautiful place almost 40 years ago. My roots feel deep here, even though I was once yelled at by someone who felt my seat on the local planning commission wasn’t earned. As she pointed her finger at me, she yelled, “How long have you been here?” Several years later, I retreated from that hard, sometimes thankless volunteer city government job and found other places where I could help the community without feeling so challenged and distraught. As election day nears, I hope we will all thank those who step up to do civic work, whether or not we agree with their politics.

And the next time Jerry Sandoval bags your groceries, thank him for his hard work too.

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