A Grand Rapids Popular History


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Food Waste In Grand Rapids: Then and Now

Trash Pickers'

Non-Violent Action

In God's Own City

By The River

Creates Snowball

Effect, Resulting

In Thousands

Receiving Food

Michael Chacko Daniels
Editor & Publisher
New River Free Press International

During this season,

as we struggle

to make sense of the frenzied

post-Thanksgiving holiday

shopping season, and wonder

what our individual priorities are—

in the face of horrifying

man-made devastations

in West Asia and Africa

and the natural calamities

caused by the tsunami

and earthquake

in southern Asia,

and Hurricane Katrina in

the United States—

I would like to bring

to your esteemed attention

the spiritually uplifting

Career Visions for a Small Planet

from God’s Own City by the River:


The Trash Pickers of

Grand Rapids

Whose Action Contributes to

Saving Mountains of

Food for Hungry People

It’s an inspiring story of taking individual
responsibility, using nonviolent action
to confront several of our institutions
on the ethical questions around food waste
in a hungry world, an action whose intended
consequence was developing a system
of distributing to hungry Americans
mountains of food wasted daily.

I first reported this story

in an interview article

in 1976, which I would like

to share with my readers of

today. You will find it below in:

Segment One--set in 1976.

I also have a report from

two of the non-violent activists,

Judi Buchman and Richa

(formerly Richard Chandler), on the

impact to-date of that action

over the last 30 years.

You will find it below in:

Segment Two--set in 2005.

~ ~ ~ Segment One ~ ~ ~

New River Free Press,
November 1976/Reprint

Lifeboat Ethics &

The Making Of

The Trash


The Issue Of

Personal Responsibility

"It's a strange and uncomfortable world to live in when in the midst of scarcity and world hunger, people salvaging food are put in jail and the people throwing it away are protected by police, and courts . . . ."
--Kathi Byrne

We are all on LIFEBOAT EARTH; our resources scarce, our waste plentiful.

The Trash Pickers of Grand Rapids, using the techniques of nonviolent action, have confronted several of our institutions on the ethical questions around food waste in a hungry world. Their confrontation with Kroger's ended in early October [1976] on a positive note with Kroger's deciding to distribute food to appropriate groups, food that would otherwise be wasted because of legal and commercial merchandizing requirements.

The following is an interview with three of the more than half dozen nonviolent trash pickers of Grand Rapids: Kathi Byrne, Judi Buchman, and Richard Chandler. The three live in the abandoned Central City house that Don Heinzelman, Kathi, Judi, and others saved from demolition, and rehabilitated (see New River of April 1975). Interspersed with the interview are excerpts from a narrative written by Kathi soon after some of the shocking incidents of July 1976 occurred. (You'll find her narrative in the italics below.)
[--Michael Daniels, Editor & Publisher, November 1976]

JUDI 28 years/ 5' 7"/ blue eyes/ brown hair/ elementary school teacher by training/ 6 years in GR/ program committee member of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group/ she feels a closeness to Quakers/

RICHARD 28 years/ brown hair/ brown eyes/ 5' 11"/ 150 lbs/ 2 years of prison education/ 3-5 years of a lot traveling/ bearded/ has learned a lot of life in the last 10 years since he left school/

KATHI 26 years/ brown hair/ grey-green eyes/ 5' 5"/ 127 lbs/ native Grand Rapidian/ previously staff member of the American Friends Service Committee, presently member of its program committee/ one child/

The story of the trash picking arrests begins about two years ago. That was a time when it dawned on us that the Farmers' Market had some good produce in those dumpsters on either end of it. So we started there. With our awareness of how much food was thrown out there, we became more and more interested in trash bins. Soon we were doing a regular route of four Kroger stores twice a week. We continued it up until July when five people were put in jail at the orders of the Kroger Co.

Trash picking for us has been more than just a way to get food. It's a life style choice. It's saying that we can live off the waste of the food industry, we can salvage food to give away to supplement other's diets and in good conscience we can't leave it to rot to be taken to a dump. It's also been a joyful sharing in our household, taking turns going to the stores and bringing home the crates of food, six to eight of us working in the kitchen, unloading, washing, separating, cutting, bagging, storing, putting aside what we wouldn't use--to be given away, cleaning out the refrigerator and filling it up. Somehow, we've managed to do all of this together, moving in and out of spaces in our small kitchen somewhat like a bullet. It always amazed us that we never bumped heads.

NewRiver What type of things led you to become trash pickers?

Kathi . . . I was just thinking of the other things we were working on at the same time--working with American Friends Service Committee, living here, working with the soup kitchen that became Capitol Lunch on Bridge . . . I worked at a soup kitchen in (Washington) D. C. after that. Richard, didn't you work in one . . . ?

Richard In Baltimore.

Kathi It seems to me the things we worked with like--5-6% of the world's population using 40-60% of the world's goods. It seemed that holding all that and you have the huge waste of food--it seems to me we waste humanity in this country . . .

Judi . . . Knowing that we throw away more than what people use in other countries. . . .

Kathi We don't consider food as a life support, only a commodity.

NewRiver Do you think you, yourselves, have wasted food?

Richard My parents very much taught me not to waste. People starving in India was the example they often gave me . . . but, I never came to really understand that in an emotional way until I was in prison (for refusing to be a slave or to kill) and you found people were happy to be in prison because they could get three square meals a day and I made the connection about food being thrown away because they threw food away every day in prison (which had an inmate population of 1,200).

And a few years after that I moved to Baltimore where I worked with some friends in a soup kitchen and we collected the waste from the wholesale produce market. We also got a lot of stuff from the stalls. We were able to feed 50 to 100 people a day. So when I moved here I immediately fitted into what people were doing here. I understood and could expect it. Both in Baltimore and here, I have seen people, not really starving, but who could make use of wasted food, and I know it would be immeasurably less so here than in some other places where if some of these large corporations would make the food available overseas, it would help. I see what we have done--recycling food that would be otherwise wasted--as very much as political action.

NewRiver The question that occurs immediately as a follow-up is how far you'd go personally? . . . Would you consider your consumption to be wasteful in relation to the consumption in the poorer parts of the world?

Richard No, I wouldn't consider my consumption to be wasteful, generally speaking. I'm aware of the difference in consumption comes largely in consumption of meat. I've seen the figure that per person we consume 2,000 lbs of grain per year mainly in the form of wheat, whereas in some Asian countries it's 400 lbs. And the major difference here is that in Western counrtries a lot of meat is consumed. . . . Also people are used to eat more than they need because they have the food. . . .

Kathi I feel I do buy into the waste. I'm part of the waste, and maybe for me it's a difference in how much. I feel I'm willing to salvage food and use that. And I guess my awareness came when I began to think of the figures Richard mentioned about not eating meat. But drinking coffee is the same thing; coffee is a cash crop that takes away from food crops in poor countries--the land and resources could be used for growing food. We got the coffee beans from the trash, too. One of the other things that occurred to me is that our supermarkets live on the concept that the bigger things and the fresher things will only do. It's our mind-set that it's got to be shining and beautiful to be edible. It seems to me that that's the way people can deal with it when they are shopping--that the bruised apple at the bottom is not bad. . . .

Judi If the customers would ask for the bruised food and ask for a reduced price, it would help prevent waste.

Kathi I'm aware there are times we have found a whole bag of apples in the trash because there were a few bruised ones at the bottom. If customers would ask questions about them so that the price would be knocked down and they could buy it instead of it going to waste, it would help. But, it's such a big question . . . Where the seller is there, you can deal with it, but in the supermarket that's not possible, the bigness makes it so hard to deal with it.

Judi I also think of people taking personal responsibility on the matter--people saying, "That makes sense," and acting upon it.

Kathi That has happened in some places. I guess one of the solutions is to establish a system to take care of the problem before food reaches a stage where it's wasted. In D. C., I know of a cooperative which has a bin filled with food that was for free because it was old.

Judi . . . This other store that Richard dealt with in Maine . . .

Richard There were two stores I dealt with in Maine. One was very well aware of the problem of starving people and used the food for the poor, the other store wasted it. And when I took the food to use it and to distribute it to needy people through a church program, the second store started calling the police.

Through the two years of going to the Kroger stores, we talked with different managers and employees trying to convince them to give the food away. Nothing came of our efforts until last March. Judi Buchman and I were arrested by the Kentwood Police at the 44th & Kalamazoo Street store. The charges of simple larceny was dropped. (Who can put a value on garbage?) We were warned not to come back and the manager said he would give the food to an authentic organization that we could have contact him. When people from the Capitol Lunch food program called, he wouldn't return their calls. So we continued to trash pick.

On July13, 1976, Judi Buchman and Richard Chandler were arrested at that same store. There was no warning, the police just came and they were given no choices about putting the food back or talking with the store people. They were swiftly carried off to the Kent County jail. There was another place where there was little opening for dialogue and both of them refused cooperation on their individual levels. When Judi balked at the County clothes she was given, she was threatened with male guards to strip her and dress her. There was a lot of that kind of pressure used on them. Arraigned on Wednesday, Joseph Kelly came to their cells to hold his court. There were several reasons for that apparently, mainly having to do with the difficulty of carrying the two of them from place to place.

It's a strange and uncomfortable world to live in, when in the midst of scarcity and world hunger, people salvaging food are put in jail and the people throwing it away are protected by police, laws, and courts. . . .

That night, Angie Hoogterp, Bill Kellerman, and myself leafletted the store while six others stood with signs off the Kroger property. After about 20 minutes of good and exciting dialogue with customers, we were surrounded by five Kentwood Police cars and quickly arrested. We also were taken to the Kent County jail.

The next day four of us appeared in the Kentwood courtroom. For the most part, each of us agreed that we had done what the police had recorded on us and that we didn't see our actions as criminal. Joseph Kelly heard this as pleas of nolo contendere and sentenced us to time served. Richard refused to come to the courtroom as he felt the responsibility for his release was on those who had immediate acces to his cell. There is so much to say about the jail experience but Richard's fasting for 13 days sums it up--that it was such a loveless place it was not worth staying alive in there. . . .

After our release, Judi and I returned to do vigil until Richard's release. We were told by Kentwood City and County police that if we stood on one side of the sidewalk, we would be arrested for trespassing on County property, on the other side for loitering on City property--on the sidewalk; we had to keep moving. After walking for eight hours and fasting since the arrests, we were ready to try something else.

For the next nine days, we did something of everything. We leafletted; talked-talked-talked to Kroger's, police, jailers, Joseph Kelly; held two candlelight vigils with 26 people at one and 15 at the other; picketed Kroger's and the jail; visited David Burt in Livonia; walked from Kroger's to the jail--eight miles with signs and leaflets; and spent hours on the phone.

On July 26, Richard walked into the Kentwood courtroom, exchanged hugs with us, and then attempted to leave, as he felt he was finished. Since Joseph Kelly hadn't okayed it yet, he was surrounded by police and dragged back. Joachim, who had visited Richard in his cell a number of times, helped Richard in his attempts to get Joseph Kelly to leave his bench. Richard challenged Joseph's role and his right to the power he was using. Kelly remained on his bench but released Richard with no bond and with a future trial date. . . . Richard had a very painful time in the next two days trying to resume a diet his body was not yet ready to break. . . .

NewRiver What steps do you think need to be taken to change food waste around?

Richard I think the first step is for the legal system not to be involved in negotiations between us and the stores.

Judi In other words, not arresting the people who are taking the food and using it. . . . I think the other thing people could do would be to ask the stores if they could get food that would otherwise be wasted, and get it at a lower prie. But, I guess, people don't have the energy to do that because of large families and they don't have a place to do it. I know of one woman who did that--made it through the winter through personal contact with the store owner and checking out such possibilities. I guess the reason why we did it is because we had the energy and went ahead and did it.

Kathi It seems that if groups like cooperatives--small neighborhood cooperatives--got some of this food that would otherwise by wasted, they would be of help. A group of neighbors could work together to get food cheaply and also help to use the waste from the food industry.

Judi I think one of the things that Richard was talking about was food banks . . .

Richard Arizona Food Bank. They're a group of people who go around to various stores, farmers, markets . . . and they store the food they get in donated refrigerated space and people take it to needy places. . . . They have storage space in Cincinnati where they store canned food and occasionally perishables.

Kathi One time, I went to Kroger's and brought back 80 half cartons of milk. What I was aware when they said they were dated was that the store could plug into places that could make use of it. If the store is in a risky position after the date expires, they could make a call to places that need it before the date expires. A phone call could take care of that.

Richard Judi and I got an exceptionally large supply of food and we gave it away in this neighborhood. They could probably take a lot of food in this neighborhood.

NewRiver Besides the issue of waste, what were the other issues involved in your recent morally-motivated actions?

Richard . . . There's the issue of food waste and then there's the issue of Police Power. Our society tends to rely on the police's powers rather than each person taking responsibility for dealing with things and getting to the causes of things and solving them. They are handed to the police to get rid of it, instead of getting to the root of it. People do not look beyond their immediate interests. That's been the response not only from Kroger's, but with other supermarkets. In arguing with them we found they had no explanations other than "Get out of here, or we'll call the police!"

Kathi The crazy thing is that people were not willing to take personal responsibility. The police felt they were only doing their duty. One time a police car drove up to us in a trash bin and the policeman asked us what we were doing. I said we were taking out food to use it. He said, "Oh, I thought you were putting something in it." But when the store called them against us, they came to arrest us and they didn't want to arrest us, but they had to because they had a complaint issued against us. . . .

Judi The man that arrested us said this puts me in a heck of a position because I know there's a lot of waste. There was that righteousness, but he felt like he had to do his duty rather than assume personal responsibility.

Kathi That's what we found everywhere--we may agree with you but this is our job. We wanted to get across the issue of personal responsibility and people needn't just follow the (official) line.

Judi I guess that's the thing that needs to be considered--people, whatever they are doing, should take personal responsibility.

Richard Police had told Don Heinzelman that he had to leave the Grand Rapids Farmers' Market. A couple of weeks later, Kathi and Mark talked to a GR policeman who said they had talked about what to do if there were people picking trash at the Farmers' Market. They decided it was the Parks Department's responsibility. The police had decided that they would arrest trash pickers for criminal negligence unless they have a letter from the Parks Deparment that they could pick trash. I had a good feeling dealing with the Kentwood Police who could see the waste. I had a positive sense about the Kentwood Police, but a negative one about the Grand Rapids Police because they had decided to arrest us without talking with us and also perhaps giving us a a heavier penalty. I question why the people have to deal with that. They (the police) didn't do that when people were picking trash originally at the Farmers' Market, but after the (recent media) publicity they wanted to do that.

Kathi The sense I got was: "We are not Kroger's, we are the City (of Grand Rapids).

Judi It's a power game to them. . .

Kathi I got the sense from them that, "If you didn't learn your lesson on that little thing (with Kroger's in Kentwood), we'll teach you."

I feel we've learned a lot and grown with all of this. There are a number of things we may do differently in the future. I think we all have many more questions about authority, private property, courts, jails, poverty, coercion, and fear. It's been for me a clarification of nonviolence, stretching, reaching past limits I didn't know were even there. Seriousness. I want to find ways where we can do these things, raise these questions, point out the injustices and manage to remain human. I think we all are aware of that now though, and can learn and share and take care of each other in the time ahead. We certainly feel the commitment, both to each other and to the issue of food waste.

~ ~ ~ Segment Two ~ ~ ~

From: Michael Daniels
To: Judi & Richa (formerly Richard Chandler)

November 19, 2005 6:37:12 PM PST

Would you'll like to write a short follow-up to this interview from 1976?

From: Judi and Richa
To: Michael Daniels
December 2, 2005, 10:01:47 AM PST

Update On 1976

Non-Violent Action

On Food Waste

In Grand Rapids

Judi&Richa The publicity on the wasted food, the arrests, the follow-up did a lot to raise consciousness. And somehow in this process the director of the first such food bank, John Van Hengel, contacted us from his base in Arizona. At that time, some people were in the process of duplicating his model in Detroit.

We brought the idea to Vern Hoffman, director of GRACE (Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism). At that time, they had a group that worked on food issues.

They were not ready immediately, but soon one of that group, local minister Don Eddy, took the lead in bringing the concept to Grand Rapids, and Second Harvest Gleaners Food Bank of West Michigan (as it has since been named) was established in 1981.

We “trash pickers” figured we salvaged several tons of all varieties of perfectly usable food. Gleaners has multiplied that a thousand-fold, now distributing over 10,000 tons of food yearly.

Now, at Well House Homeless Shelter, where Judi works and lives and Richa volunteers, most of our food comes from “Gleaners”, as we still refer to it.

During 2004, we purchased 24,144 lbs of food that was sold to us at an average cost per pound of $0.14 which amounted to a shared maintenance cost of $3,294.92.

If we were to buy that amount of food it would have cost us $52,392.48. This is comparable to getting a grant of $49,097.56 without any paperwork, headaches, or reports to make it possible to feed folks in the shelter. Plus folks taking food with them when they leave, emergencies that arise, saving landfill space and the environment degradation that goes with that….

Well House is the example we know best. There are hundreds more, from youth programs to other emergency shelters to food pantries and more.

Check out Judi & Richa's
Solstice 2005 Letter below.

You Have Been Reading In Part
A New River Free Press
Reprint/Nov. '76

Copyright 2005,

New River Free Press International &

Michael Chacko Daniels. All rights reserved

New River Free Press:

Your Friendly Guide To Urban Survival & Improvement

From 1973 to 1977 Grand Rapids' Independent Voice

This community newspaper was lovingly hand-crafted on an
IBM Selectric. All of its Bookman headlines were produced by
individually hand-pressing transfer lettering.

--Michael Chacko Daniels, Editor & Publisher

Reprinted as part of a new, continuing
Grand Rapids, Michigan,
Popular History Project


You're Also Invited to Visit

Career Visions For A Small Planet

New River Free Press International's

Visions of People Remaking Our Planet:


______ * ______

Solstice Greetings, 2005

From Judi Buchman and Richa

From Judi’s back window snow can be seen in every direction. Reminding us of this time of year, a time to hibernate and reflect. We’re in the heart of this time of reflection because it’s our December retreat. During this summer our bike trips included the wonderful Ottawa parks as well a trip to the Yankee Springs Recreation Area, all within a day’s bike ride.

During the winter, we’ve discovered the wonder of just being in Judi’s space. Being together, but also doing our own special projects as well. This weekend we did such leisurely events as walking to the library and getting a load of books and tapes (sound familiar?!).

Judi is working on an online interview with the Michael Chacko Daniels, who published New River Free Press, an alternative Grand Rapids newspaper, 30 years ago, and who continues to publish updates from that and much else. We both just did an update on “trashpicking” for his Grand Rapids history project (at http://grhistory.blogspot.com/).

Richa is working on a justice rating of the City of Grand Rapids. So much of this retreat time is reading, connecting on the computer with friends and projects, playing games and music and mostly being able to wake up and not answer to anyone. The sense of excitement and relaxation over such simplicity is amazing!

In our county, Kent County, we just recently finalized a plan to end homelessness in ten years, and have gained considerable community support for it in the process. Richa served on the seven-person team (including two paid staff) at the center of developing the plan, while Judi was on one of the “project teams” and has been looking at how implementation might transform Well House. Funding criteria are already changing to support some key elements of the plan, so it may not be much longer before we see some of that transformation.

For Well House, in fact, we have been working towards that day for several years. Even though we know it will take some time, we want to start to live that future. For us that means getting a financial base that isn’t dependent upon homelessness, which is how we are now paid. So we applied and received a grant this year. Although our hope was that it would be for prevention, most was for operations of our facility. Even with that, it freed up funds for our staff time and efforts that keep people out of shelters. Plus some money to actually help with a utility or a month’s rent to prevent the eviction.

We recently joined a book discussion group on Marc Gopin’s “Healing the Heart of Conflict”, which has been a moving book for all of us involved. The group discussion is already getting to some deep issues for us. We recommend the book

For Judi her story is much the same as the last ten years. Her focus with her spiritualness centered in the Friends Meeting and her daily life, her peace work with the Institute for Global Education, and daily life at Well House Homeless Shelter. On the walk to the library yesterday, we walked by the Children’s Museum. It was around 10 years ago that we met with some of the organizers and our peace group. We had a vision of a safe place where kids and parents could come together when they needed to change parents, or a safe place for reuniting children and parents.

This didn’t happen, but the Children’s Museum did. This is a fun place that Judi has used to bring a parent and her children together with safety. They also have been generous in donating Well House an annual family pass so that residents can afford to visit. However, the need for other alternatives than taking children from families has been a recurring theme. In fact so much so that Judi’s vision for Well House after we end homelessness is a community living situation where families can come together with parenting and daily living support as they grow into healthy families without being separated.

It’s becoming more common for Judi to overlap her commitments so that we have the Friend’s youth doing service work here at Well House. We also have a sewing circle and spiritual time that includes both. Clearness committees are also being hosted at the shelter for Friends, volunteers and former staff.

We have both been disgusted by the corporate-owned mass media for a long time. Recognizing the major impact of the media, this year Richa led a local effort for a ballot initiative that would guarantee support for a public access newspaper. Many people lit up at the idea.

However, there were not enough people willing to give it high priority and we were unable to get enough signatures. But people keep getting more fed up, and now that the idea has been put out there widely, Richa believes it’s just a matter of time.

Meanwhile Richa and friend Kathy continue to publish SPOON, a neighborhood newsletter that has been pretty controversial, but that many eagerly look forward to. But we only have funding for about another year, so we are working on a grant submission (due by December 31).

After eight years on the neighborhood association board, Richa did not run again. This has freed up time for other things, and taken some pressure off. It is always a balance, working on various exciting and needed projects but not getting overwhelmed.

One new area of activity has been health care. Without dental care, Richa’s teeth had been getting progressively worse, with severe pain at times. After doors shut on the more likely possibilities, Richa started systematically calling dentists in the phone book, offering work or service in exchange for dental work. Nobody was willing. But eventually that plus other efforts succeeded in getting Richa into a program. A lot of work is required, and it is still in process, with two more teeth removed so far. Some specialized work will probably not get done, but at least eating is now pretty much back to normal.

This in part led Richa to get involved in a campaign building support for universal health care in Michigan. Started by a group in the Detroit area, Richa has been playing a key role in gaining support in West Michigan. The campaign continues, and is part of a longer-term plan to revisit universal health care nationally.

Otherwise, we are both doing well enough health-wise. An added joy is our great-niece . . . . Our gift to you remains working for a better world.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Micro Fiction & Poetry Interlude


A New River Free Press, October 1975 Reprint

By Michael

White cat on a green lawn.

On a clear day, I know it's forever.

Well, you travel interminably, by bike, by VW, by sneaker. And you see all these houses sitting delicately in the sun. You want to keep going. Then, you come upon a house basking in buttery light, a white cat playing on the neatly cropped green lawn and you wonder whether you still can return to the blue VW and continue into the blue yonder.

Landscapes flash by, meshing into each other, erasing all the forget-me-nots until I see this white cat. I want to rest my trusted VW.

Like the time I coasted on a Southern California smog blanket aboard my minimum pollution device into the airy coolness of Northern California and saw this brown-eyed woman who invited me to park my blue VW beside her own and taste her home grown apple pie.

Her brown-eyed daughter gazed into my blue eyes and called me papa. I stayed longer than I have anywhere else. Perhaps, memories of my brown-eyed mother had held me; perhaps we all go through life unanchored until that quintessential moment arrives bursting with the blooms of seeds sown years and centuries past by forefathers now dust in all corners of the earth.

Sometimes, it’s a quiet, rolling farm with cows and horses, some chicken, a pleasant, unnervous dog. You know the way the road proceeds uninterruptedly, and then you spy a golden rod house standing still as the sun plays light and dark with it and the ripening grain sways gently, unmolested except for quick flights of picturesque black birds and sparrows.

And, then, of course, there are those quaint windmills turning in the wind or silently heralding the stillness.

The white cat springs for a brown-spackled yellow butterfly. The air shimmers. Somewhere a screen door shuts in the September afternoon. The air shakes. The muddy river flows by bramble and bush. Where are the dragonflies? Down with the Great Pan creating a poet? Tomorrow, I’ll be in another time and place. Let’s wade in the water, children.

The air settles.

I ponder. Should I get out of my yellow VW and approach the house for hospitality? In here, in my heart the seeds await another awakening. You open the box, Robert Graves, and within the box is another box. Within the seed one more seed. One more, one more seed. Are they identical in every way?

The air vibrates as another cat approaches the white cat, brilliant in the buttery light.

And as the world acquires the stillness within a photo after the flash, I emerge from my green VW and walk to the house. I am opaque. I am silver. I am green. I am yellow. I knock. My heart pounds. Will my heart bloom? My VW turns another color. O God, what exploding madness.


New River Free Press note in the October 1975 issue on the author:

“Michael, an Eastown [Grand Rapids] resident, likes to read and write fantasy.”

© New River Free Press and Michael Chacko Daniels 1975 & 2005

You Have Been Reading

A New River Free Press,

October 1975/Reprint


You're Invited to Visit

Career Visions For A Small Planet

New River Free Press International's

Visions of People Remaking Our Planet:


Teresa Podgorski clicked this photo of
Michael Chacko Daniels
in Monterey, California,
over two decades after they
completed their work on
New River River Free Press
of Grand Rapids Michigan.

Featured PoemWritten By The Editor Of

New River Free Press In Grand Rapids,

Which Was Published In 2004 In

Michael Chacko Daniels'

Split in Two

Peace on Carlton, G. R.

There are large black ants here

And the field mouse

That crawled its way in

Found swift death with a whiff of

Swiss Cheese,

Product of Norway.

We don’t have a cat, yet.

I detest cats, their selfishness.

But I like it here on Carlton.

Wilcox Park from our back door

Spreads in grand profusion

And G. R.’s trees enfold me again.

The German Shepherd from the clutter

Of the red house next door

Made a grab for my calf,

Ripped my precious brown corduroy.

I swung with a growl

And the big, baaad dog ran.

When the 30-miles-an-hour traffic

Slackens, the quietness surpasses

All city silences I’ve known,

Except the delicate slumber

Of the Bangalore YMCA

Heightened by rain on

Red-tiled roofs

And banyan-wide leaves,


And the hard ball being hit

By the flat bat of a

Graceful brown sahib.

But I love it here on Carlton.

Yes, the clock on the stained-brown table

Counts time aloud, a bicycle

Rattles on the sidewalk

And the thought strikes me:

Someday, must help India

Build houses, grow food . . .

But when my beloved comes for me with bells

Fireflies in her brown eyes

I go to her

Knowing why I’ve never known more peace

Than here on Carlton

From: Split in Two

(Revised Second Edition, 2004, Writers Workshop, Kolkata)
Copyright 2004 Michael Chacko Daniels

Available directly from:

Michael Chacko Daniels

Post Office Box 641724

San Francisco, CA 94109

United States of America

Each copy is beautifully handcrafted, a work of art in itself.

In a world of automated printing and copying, the art of creating books by hand is not fully appreciated. Each time I handle one of these books, I feel honored to have my work memorialized by the traditional craftspeople in Calcutta, India, who contributed their skills to these creations.

Even if my artistic skills as a poet and novelist does not strike a responsive chord in you, I am sure the look and feel of the books will.

It has cost me $25 a copy to complete all the phases of this work. Consider me to be a hopeless romantic at sea in this world of writing and publishing, but I am committed to bringing these fables about modern India, and the poems, to you in these beautiful, handcrafted editions.

Each copy that is requested at this price will be personally signed by me.

These handcrafted, signed copies of the limited, revised second edition will please any book collector and should have added value in the years ahead when hand-produced books, and the novels and poetry they showcase, are history.

Need I add that these lovingly produced books will make excellent presents?

Also available from Writers Workshop, Kolkata.

A Writers Workshop Redbird Book

Writers Workshop books are published by P. Lal from

162/92 Lake Gardens, Calcutta 700045, India.

Layout and lettering by P. Lal.

Printed by Abhijit Nath in a Lake Gardens Press.

Gold-embossed, hand-stitched, hand-pasted, and hand-bound by Tulamiah Mohiuddin with handloom sari cloth woven and designed in India, to provide visual beauty and what the publisher describes as “the intimate texture of book-feel.” The publisher, who glories in that “each WW publication is a hand-crafted artifact,” refuses to hide WW bindings “concealed behind ephemeral glossy jackets.”

ISBN 81-8157-280-7 (Hardback Limited Edition)

ISBN 81-8157-281-5 (Flexiback Limited Edition)

Visit Writers Workshop at www.writersworkshopkolkata.com


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Saturday, November 05, 2005

"Caring Is Contagious"

Urban Grace:

Saving A House

In Grand Rapids

New River Free Press, August 1975/Reprint

NRFP Interviews

Don Heinzelman

He cares for a house

ready for demolition

& saves it

  • This is the story of how and why a technical illiterate, Don Heinzelman, making between $2,500 and $5,000 annually, shaped and formed his own space by rehabing a building that was up for demolition.

Don Heinzelman likes to give value to people and things, a very humane value.

"Once upon a time," he says, "I taught high school English in an upper middle class commuter community in Highland Park, Ill . . .

"I stopped teaching, disenchanted by the possibility of [successfully] educating students towards some humanistic values. Where I taught, the people were caught up in a consuming life style which had very little center other than consuming, and discarding what was left, without putting value to anything. And I was interested in an education that put values in people and a value on some thing."

Don is 32. The same age I am. I first sought him in 1973 on learning of his efforts at rehabilitating an inner city house that was up for demolition.

His story has been an inspiration to me. I have often asked him to write about the house that no one else would touch. But, Don is a reluctant writer. So, finally this interview . . .

He loves to see things grow--there are a multitude of plants in the nine-room brick and stucco house, and in the back a garden.

A satisfied vegetarian, he is also a complete environmentalist, recycling everything organic or inorganic that he has found a way to recycle.

He loves to set gentle examples, those are the seeds he sows best . . .

Giving value to people and things, Don gives value . . .

NRFP Had you ever been involved in housing rehabilitation before doing this house?
DH No, I had never been involved in anything like that (previously).

NRFP Had you thought of it?
DH I thought of it in as much as I look on things and see what can and should be preserved . . . and enhanced. And a result of living as a poor person for the years subsequent to my teaching, houses that come into disuse have been one of the centers of my interest--they seemed a phenomenal waste of our environment, especially when you consider many of those buildings could be made usable.

Shortly after arriving in G. R., a friend and I bought a house on Charles Street (where a food coop, one of the first in G. R., flourished for a year and a half). Except for five layers of wall paper and a loose board here and there, it was in more usable condition.

NRFP Did you seek this house out?
DH A friend of mine who is a real estate agent discovered this house and wanted to know whether I would be interested in taking it on as a project. I'd really become aware of the amount of money people spend and how much time it takes out of their lives to buy property, and I decided to do the house and have friends live in it for paying the taxes, the insurance, and the utilities. I assumed all of the cost and the majority of the labor in renovating the house. In this way, the folks lived in the house, an opportunity to live inexpensively in order to come to terms with their own lives.

NRFP What did you feel when you first saw the property?
DH The first thing that impressed me were the boards across the doors and windows, the broken glass, and the snow, and the back door left ajar, inside were truckloads of stone, glass, debris left by the last owners and the vandals. The challenge was seen through the debris--finding oak floors which could once again be handsome, walls which after scrubbing and painting could be handsome, a whole environment which could be made not only livable but handsome. Specifically, I saw much work, but also much promise.

NRFP You have described yourself as a technical illiterate, what madness gripped you that you could see through all the debris something of promise?
DH Two things come to mind immediately. First, are the natural elements of the stone and the wood which are handsome in their own right; the next thing would be the encounters I have had with folks who have done handymen kinds of things and my realization that if they could do it I could do it also. It's that sense of possibility of seeing oneself as mover (moving with your own energy) that set me off on a 1,000 mile bicycle ride from Ashville, N. C., to Littleton, N. H., to help some friends homestead an A frame house. (They decided not to build so I came to G. R.)

NRFP What do you see in houses?
DH I see the natural elements that make them up . . . I see the workmanship that went into construction and I see the possibilities for use. In this country and perhaps in Western Civilization today, houses are seen as objects, as something usable, it seems to me that the character of the natural elements, that the spirit of workmanship, and that the possibilities for human habitation aren't taken into account . . . putting in a walnut library, not because of the elements or the craftsmanship, but just to have a walnut library . . . that's an extension of one's arrogance.

NRFP How do you perceive habitable space?
DH A friend of mine used to say home is where I am, that statement has been a source of much contemplation. There can be the natural elements I talked about and there can be the craftmanship, but finally there is putting oneself in one space and seeing oneself committed there (in a way) that gives things values.

NRFP How about this particular space you're living in--in the inner city?
DH I have lived in the inner cities of other cities and I find them not very different from other space, we may change some trappings, but city life is city life.

NRFP What made you commit the time and energy to rehabilitating this house?
DH I just wasn't willing to spend the next 20 or 30 years of my life on some contract filling someone's pockets. It doesn't relate to the workman, or the elements involved--it's only a money-making proposition--another reason is that it was here . . .

NRFP What are the steps you went through to own and rehabilitate this house?
DH First of all, the house was a VA (Veterans Administration) repossession that was about to be demolished and through the realtor friend the property was purchased for a little over $100. The building was bought in winter. We began by chipping the glass out in order to put in a layer of windows.

Once a layer of glass was put in, a heating contractor began work on installation of a new forced air gas furnace, and a new electric board was installed. These things along with some plumbing work were done in a period less than a month in order to have new occupants living here, which would prevent further vandalism.

Once the essential work was done, there came the task of just a whole relay of minor repairs and of massive redecoration.

Walls were patched, sanded, and painted, and in one case a whole new wall was installed because of water damage. The floors were sanded, stained, and refinished. In some cases, new ceilings were installed. What now can be said in a few sentences has taken two years.

The exterior trim, although in good condition, needed repainting. One roof needed major repair and the stucco at the back had to be replaced.

The lawn which had become a neighborhood garbage can had to be raked and cut and bushels of glass needed to be picked up. We are still picking it up two years later, but we also have (now) a garden, grass, trees, and shrubs.

NRFP Could you give me a breakdown of the costs upto today?
DH Electric work (contracted) $365
Plumbing (including labor) $600
Furnace (contracted, new) $900
Window glass (occupants) $400
New aluminum storms & screen doors $900
Exterior paint & repairs (self) $250
Interior paint & repairs (self) $500

NRFP How did you finance this expenditure?
DH I borrowed from an aunt $2,500 to do the initial work and after that I just paid for things out of my pocket as I went along.

NRFP How much were you earning at that time?
DH When I bought the house I was earning $2,500 per year as a part-time hospital orderly. Six months after buying the house I worked full time, but at no time in the last several years have I made more than $5,000. (Don doesn't have any dependents.)

NRFP Did you have to scrimp?
DH I live simply. (He laughs.) People who lived in the house have put in work, but I have done the majority by personal choice.

NRFP Have you found your efforts having an effect on the neighborhood?
DH Oh, definitely. I don't want this to sound that this is the single element that had an effect, but caring is contagious, I think. And I have seen a lot of caring in the last two years. Last week, two houses within the same block were being painted, and the man across has repainted the ceiling of his porch, and yards are neat and trim--countless little things that make a difference.

NRFP From your experience in this house and this neighborhood what do you think is needed to reverse housing blight and neighborhood deterioration?
DH One thing I've really observed is that those folks who own their own houses are those that do the most, absentee landlords are exactly that--absent. I think it's important that if someone moves into an area that they are there to commit themselves to not only renovation of the house but to enlivening community spirit. A sense of isolation can often lead to an atmosphere where vandalism and robbery can take place. A sense of camaraderie and caring, things which can't be bought, have proven a worthy investment for everyone concerned.

NRFP What are your future plans?
DH I'd like to become involved in a farm experiment. I'd like to live simply, without electricity or flush john, with kerosene lamps, a wood stove, and an outhouse. I'd like to attempt self-sufficiency . . . not an arrogant self-sufficiency, but coming to terms with the basics of my needs.

(Don had told me a long time ago he was more of a country person than a city person.)

NRFP What will happen to this house?
DH The people who are living with me will continue to live here. If the house is sold, it'll be sold for the cost of the materials spent in rehabing it . . . It is my hope that the people living here will have the same concern I have. It seems that's all we have to go on--personal example.

MCD is the NRFP editor.

Copyright & copy; 2005,
New River Free Press &
Michael Chacko Daniels. All rights reserved.

You Have Been Reading

New River Free Press,

August 1975/Reprint

New River Free Press:

Your Friendly Guide To Urban Survival & Improvement

From 1973 to 1977 Grand Rapids' Independent Voice

This community newspaper was lovingly hand-crafted on an
IBM Selectric. All of its Bookman headlines were produced by
individually hand-pressing transfer lettering.

--Michael Chacko Daniels, Editor & Publisher

Reprinted as part of a new, continuing
Grand Rapids, Michigan,
Popular History Project

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Discover Open Housing Truths, 1976

New River Free Press, June 1976/Reprint

How 5 citizens discovered

what had happened to

open housing in G. R .

By Bill Carpenter
EDITOR'S NOTE: With the intent of promoting community knowledge, debate, and discussion, New River publishes this personal report of a pioneering study in GR [Grand Rapids, MI] [New River Free Press, June 1976].

It was a Saturday morning in January. We had met on six of the last ten or eleven days. The work was slow, our deadline approaching, and we still had much to do. But we had come a long way. A year and a half before we were just beginning the Grand Rapids Real Estate Audit on fair housing practices. Then our endless discussions, were of which realtors to "test" for racial discrimination and steering, how to train testers, even how to find them. We poured over audits from groups in other cities--Dallas, Torrence-Carson (California), Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Akron, and others.

Since that beginning, we had recruited twenty volunteer couples (ten black, ten white), to see how realtors would treat them and where (black or white neighborhoods) they would be shown homes. The couples were matched according to age, number of children, income, etc. the only significant difference was in the color of their skin. We held four training sessions for the testers, sent them out on numerous Saturday and Sunday afternoons, thoroughly debriefed each couple after each visit, combed over their notes and ours, and tabulated all the bits of evidence into the pattern that emerged: yes, there is different treatment of whites and blacks by the real estate companies we surveyed. Whites are shown to predominantly white areas, blacks to predominantly black or changing areas. Our report speaks for itself.

Who are we and why did we do it?

Nancy Baumbach in belonging to the League of Women Voters for several years has been involved with an organization that has worked for support of fair and open housing laws at all levels of government. The League was instrumental in getting fair housing ordinances passed in the City of Grand Rapids. Nancy is now vice president of the local League and lives in Ottawa Hills.

Mike Smolenski is an attorney, avid family man, and is active with Garfield Park Neighborhood Association.

Anne Schreuder is coordinator of the Social Research Center at Calvin College, a resident of Heritage Hill, and a board member of National Neighbors.

Bob Burnap headed the Neighborhood Alliance.

I am the equal opportunities specialist at HUD-FHA [Housing and Urban Development-Federal Housing Authority] in Grand Rapids and the "country cousin" member, residing in Newaygo County.

One thing we all seemed to share--a desire to see integrated living come about. the suburbs are largely white, the inner city black, the middle city has neighborhoods which are either predominantly black, predominantly white, or changing from white to black. Few neighborhoods seem to stabilize as integrated. Blacks seemingly only move to neighborhoods where blacks already live or to white neighborhoods close to predominantly black areas.

The question we had repeatedly heard and had asked ourselves and which the audit was designed to answer is "How much of this is free choice and what part do realtors play in the process?" Those neighborhoods that become integrated seem to be put in a separate market from white areas--a market where only blacks are shown, one in which middle class whites, mortgage lending institutions, and (as the isolation continues) middle class blacks do no participate. Comparably priced housing in white areas remain seemingly inaccessible to blacks. Mike and Anne had seen this pattern beginning to take shape in Garfield Park. Nancy had seen it before in Ottawa Hills where it was successfully thwarted.

The Ottawa Hills experience showed overt block-busting which played on fears of loss of property value in order to create panic selling by whites. Ottawa Hills is now a stable integrated area, one in which blacks and whites move in and out. The isolation of Ottawa Hills has been halted by vigorous action of the local neighborhood association. Nancy, Mike, and I noticed the continuing pattern, elsewhere in the city. White areas further removed from the inner city remained white. And yet, all homes listed with members of the Multiple Listing Service (practically every property in the metropolitan area) are available for realtors to show. Each real estate office has a copy of every home listed with the MLS--and salespeople depend on the cards to know what's available to prospective purchasers. The MLS, more than anything, is what makes the Grand Rapids area--Caledonia, Byron Center, Jennison, Ada, Sparta, Walker--one housing market. many of the realtors operating in my home area, Grant, are Grand Rapids realtors--putting many Grant properties in the MLS. Yet, I have not seen, in my three years there, a black family move anywhere near. Mexican Americans, yes; probably because ours is a former temporary residence for many Chicanos when they were migrant farm workers.

In my business dealings at FHA, I would hear of the fine motives of the realtors. I have come to truly believe that many of the real estate brokers (proprietors as opposed to salespeople) have no malice toward fair housing. The problem is: they are not committed to policing their sales forces to assure that race, or ethnicity, has no part in the sales transaction. There are those, of course, who are more racist, arrogant, patronizing, with many myths regarding behaviour and values of blacks. Generally, however, the brokers are well-heeled business people with an interest in their communities as well as their businesses and their reputations, but who have closed their eyes to a problem for so long and so comfortably, they do not know the problem exists anymore. And perhaps for some (one can only guess at such motives) racial change in a neighborhood means housing turnover, sales, commissions, a buck. And fighting the perceived trend can lose them turnover, sales, commissions, a buck.

Nancy and her family moved from a northwest suburb of Grand Rapids (Walker) to Ottawa Hills--they wanted an integrated living experience for their children and themselves; and they simply like Ottawa Hills. Anne and Mike have a level-desire for integrated neighborhoods. They see really good housing values in the inner and middle city go unnoticed by most white home buyers. Again, they suspected, because realtors had written off the areas as "black," and that somehow, these areas were now undesirable to whites.

So there is our group. We have grown a lot in these last months. We had each other's ego needs to satisfy; we had to bolster each other. At times, one or two of us would suffer from anxiety, tiredness, and frustration at not moving quickly enough. At other times, all of us had these together. We helped each other work through these and into the periods when we moved well together, each picking up an item the other had dropped, one complementing the other. We have a bond now, and one we want to share. An audit has been done once--by green folks--us. Now we and others can build on this experience. New groups need not repeat our mistakes or spend hours pondering alternative moves such as methods of training, devising data forms for use by testers, or methods of recruiting testers. Certainly, there are things we should differently and variations others would use. But a basis of experience and of audit findings has been gathered. Now I think we can continue--with more confidence, more speed, and some new blood. One of our goals was and is to generate an on-going fair housing group to use this data to effect changes by realtors, to conduct other audits, to continue the pressure for change, to educate the public, and perhaps move into other areas which affect our living--such as financial practices.

We turned over the information, raw data included, to the U. S. Department of Justice for examination and possible civil action by the U. S. against any or all of the ten firms involved in the audit. We also gave the audit report to the Grand Rapids Real Estate Board--with very little official response as yet, except to cite 1962 and 1973 fair housing support the Board took. we have asked the board of directors to discuss the matter, so far to no avail. The Board wants the names of the ten companies and the raw data before they will discuss the issues. we are not prepared to give out names--we did not conduct the audit to publicly castigate a few firms, or a few salespeople, when, we believe, the audit seems to show that the problem is industry-wide.

Our efforts are now moving into a new phase. We didn't collect data just to study the problem. We want to have some effect on realtor behavior and feel the Real Estate Board should take responsibility for assisting realtors, educating them, and enforcing their fair housing code of ethics. Now we will need to generate community awareness of the problem, and call for solutions from citizens, civil rights groups, church groups, and anyone interested in fair housing, neighborhood visibility, and fair play.

You Have Been Reading

A New River Free Press

Reprint/June 1976

Copyright & copy; 2005,
New River Free Press &
Michael Chacko Daniels. All rights reserved.


New River Free Press:

Your Friendly Guide To Urban Survival & Improvement

From 1973 to 1977 Grand Rapids' Independent Voice

This community newspaper was lovingly hand-crafted on an
IBM Selectric. All of its Bookman headlines were produced by
individually hand-pressing transfer lettering.

--Michael Chacko Daniels, Editor & Publisher

Reprinted as part of a new, continuing
Grand Rapids, Michigan,
Popular History Project

You're Also Invited to Visit

Career Visions For A Small Planet

New River Free Press International's

Visions of People Remaking Our Planet: