After Maggie’s husband died she volunteered at a battered woman’s shelter. She was sure it was an excellent way to give back to the community that was so kind during her husband’s long illness. The center was well funded, always a flurry of activity with many young and committed volunteers. She was given the task of manning the phones. The first week she had only ten phone calls. One of the women she counseled actually came into the shelter, but returned to her husband a week later. After working at the shelter for a month, she felt herself becoming judgmental toward the volunteers and clients. She quit the center and quickly volunteered for a literacy organization.
Maggie was an avid reader and couldn’t imagine not being able to read. She went through a short training period, excited about the prospect of meeting her learner. She requested a woman her own age, feeling that they would have more in common. She hoped that her new student would enjoy cooking so they could share recipes. Maggie received a phone call from the organization two weeks after completing her training to inform her they had found a perfect match. Phyllis and Maggie were the same age and both had recently lost their husbands. They met at the local coffee shop and they hit it off immediately. They agreed to meet twice a week for an hour at the local church to help Phyllis learn to read. Phyllis could read a simple children’s book and about half what was written in the daily newspaper, so Maggie felt that they would be working together for quite a while. Phyllis was initially committed to her lessons but soon missed weeks at a time and then stopped showing up all together.
Maggie was given another learner who failed to show up for their first meeting. Her third learner could read quite well but was an elderly gentleman whose main objective was to find female companionship. She met with the gentleman several times, but quit the organization after he asked her if she was interested in a dinner date.
The depression came upon her so slowly that she hadn’t realized it was there. When she had trouble concentrating and found that she no longer enjoyed watching The Wheel of Fortune and The Price is Right, her favorite shows, she knew that she was not feeling as well as she could have. One afternoon after having a cup of tea she went to her local market. She slowly walked the aisles carefully looking at all of the items. She occasionally enjoyed potato chips, but she wasn’t sure if they were a healthy snack, but today she decided that she would buy a moderate-sized bag and eat a few with her dinner. She slowly shopped the potato chip aisle and down on the bottom shelf were a few bags of a brand of chips of which she was not familiar.
She picked up the bag to read the fat content of this particular brand and saw that they were manufactured in a city known for food but not especially a big player in the food market. She took them home and discovered that she loved them. She guiltily ate the whole bag. They were delicious. Such quality, thought Maggie, and they were stocked at the bottom of the shelves. Who would see them there?
That night she set her clock for 8 AM. She had a couple cups of coffee and drove to the market, arriving as soon as they opened their doors. She wanted to get there when there were few customers so she could work without being noticed. She worked quickly and in less than three minutes she had moved all of bags of chips to the top shelf. She went to six supermarkets and found that only three of them stocked the chips. Still she worked just as quickly and efficiently.
That night she felt very satisfied that she had accomplished something very important. The next morning she once again rose early and drove to the markets to check her chips and was very happy to discover that sales were excellent. There were only two or three bags left at each of the markets, so she bought the rest of the chips and dropped them off at the shelter. They were always seeking donations of food, and she knew that potato chips were always a welcome snack.
After dropping off the chips she called the stores to complain that her favorite chips were sold out. She asked if they had any idea when the new shipment would arrive. They informed her that Teresa’s Chips were delivered weekly, usually on Tuesday, but they would add a few extra bags to their inventory to make sure they didn’t run out in the future.
So on Wednesday Maggie went into the markets and was not surprised to find the chips were once again on the bottom shelves. It took her longer as there were more bags to move, but she soon had the chips at eye level on the potato chip racks. She knew that with the increased inventory she would have to do something special to increase sales. So she went to the print shop and had a few signs printed with the name of the chips and the price. She didn’t reduce the price because that would cause management to remove the signs. Maggie knew that customers paid attention to signs, thinking that the product was a special purchase. The signs were small and tasteful with graphics of potato chips all around the edges.
Later that week when she checked inventory, she was happy to see that the signs were not disturbed. She loitered around the store and watched customers shop the potato chip aisle. She had seen customers look at the signs but choose another potato chip. How could they possibly pass up these chips when they were so much better? This was very troubling to Maggie. That night she had trouble sleeping. What could she do to introduce these chips to the wary customers? Of course. Samples! She crawled out of bed and went down into the basement and found a small table that her husband used as extra seating for the children during Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner. She found a nice clean cloth, and the next morning she packed several bags of chips in a tote and set up her table at the large market in the center of town.
She stopped at the front desk and told the manager she was going to give out samples to increase the sale of the chips. Never did she identify herself as a representative of the distributor or the chip manufacturer. She had made a special dip that was sure to entice even the most skeptical customer. She sold the store’s inventory of chips in less than two hours. She gave the information desk a warm wave when she left the store. Her success gave her confidence, and she set up her table at the smaller market, speaking to the clerks who welcomed her warmly.
After she made her rounds, she found that there was only one bag available, so she bought it and dropped it off at the shelter. Maggie was feeling very good since she started her new work. She once again enjoyed The Wheel and never missed an episode of The Price is Right. She would start her day with organizing the shelves at the markets, making sure that the signs were still up and two or three times a month she brought her table to all of the markets and gave samples.
She no longer had to move the chips to the top shelf. The sales had earned them a place there, and she seldom had to buy the inventory of extra chips for the shelter. The stores often sold out, especially when she gave samples. The employees knew her and no one questioned her when she set up her table offering free chips to customers.
On a beautiful Monday afternoon, Maggie was driving back from a hair appointment. At home she seldom listened to the radio, but always kept National Public Radio on in the car. Although her mind was wandering, her attention was captured by a piece on a show called Market Place about the “little potato chip company” that was bought by the well-known potato chip giant. There were interviews with the CEO of both companies, each vowing to keep the product the same, but the giant corporation announced a nationwide advertising campaign. There were even plans to take the product to a few select international markets. Maggie felt a sharp pang in the center of her chest, but decided that her job was done and perhaps it was time to move on.
The next morning Maggie slept late. She cooked breakfast and ate it while watching The Wheel, showered, and almost missed the opening cheers on The Price is Right. She went to her pantry, packaged the remaining bags of chips in her tote, and took them to the Shelter. On the drive home she decided that she may call the Animal Refuge as she understood they were looking for volunteers.
Chay Lemoine is a Halldor Laxness scholar with articles and stories published in Mannlif, Grapevine, and Logberb Heimskringla. He currently lives in Edwardsville, Illinois.