Name and Job Title: Jeff R, Safety & Security Support
Length of time at the BFC: about 5 years
How long he’s lived in the area: 8 or 9 years
Animal he identifies with or just likes a lot: the flamboyant cuttlefish. Why? They’re tiny, they live on the ocean floor, they use their tentacles to walk (he did an impression of this). They are the first animal discovered to have POISONOUS MUSCLES. They have the ability to change the color of their skin in wild, rippling rainbows, like all cuttlefish. They’re dangerous but cute.
“I like animals, I just don’t like them near me.”
Jeff is a very unusual blend of nerves of steel on one hand and mushpile softy on the other. Neurotic yet stoic. This might be part of the reason he’s so great at his job as the second in command in the Safety & Security department.
He grew up in Orange, MA, and now lives in southern Vermont with his amazing, wonderful lifelong partner and best friend, Shelby, where they co-own a four-bedroom house (Shelby works in our Cheese department). They saved up to purchase the house by working their tails off as managers at a Dunkin’ Donuts, which I personally think is pretty incredible, especially considering how young they are. They actually met when they were fourteen years old, and except for an awkward period in high school, they’ve been together ever since.
He watches television, but seems to only know about British and Canadian comedies or The Nanny. Or Sister, Sister. But he also likes video games, especially peaceful ones (new Oregon Trail, King of Retail, Stardew Valley). His top two games are Fable 2 and Ocarina of Time, which gets a special callout from him for its beautiful music. He’s also a huge fan of pro-wrestling. And he also loves making music, D&D, and most recently has fallen in love with Jiu Jitsu. I also recently learned that he cured his allergies by starting to take a cold shower every day.
Also, he really cares about doing a good job, and treating people well. In addition to making me laugh a huge amount, during our interview he talked a lot about the positive changes that have taken place since Caz started managing the newly created Safety and Security department less than a year ago. The approach to shoplifters and other things has become much more compassion-based since Caz stepped in.
Jeff has gotten to know most of the people who frequent the borders of our property pretty well, and he is painfully aware that most of them are genuinely hungry and in a bad situation.* He often has to have tough conversations with people because a customer has complained about them asking for money. “It hurts,” he said. He said it can be a very sad job, but it isn’t sad every day. And it seems like the changes happening in the department are giving him an ever-growing ability to handle these situations meaningfully, effectively, and kindly, which makes it much less tortuous.
For instance, in the colder months Caz bought hand warmers so they could hand them out, and they let folks get respite from the frozen outdoors in the cafe if they need it. Jeff and Caz both offer to buy food for people who are hungry, encourage people to ask them for food when they need it, and are working on a way to support people in need of food in a way that’s easier for people to take advantage of (not just available when one of them is around). These are things that will continue to happen and get more robust as Jeff and Caz are able to build the department more and more. Stealing food doesn’t happen as much when people aren’t starving, after all.
“Sometimes people say, ‘I’ve never seen you do anything here.’ And I’m like, ‘Good. That means I’m doing my job well.” In other words, it means he’s dealing with security issues effectively, but without drama. It’s all very stealth. This is department policy, not just Jeff’s individual methodology – they have particular protocols for how they should engage shoplifters and other issues that keep the Co-op a peaceful place for all. “I just want everyone to be comfortable.”
*Note from the author: I’ve heard from some folks that all the panhandlers in Brattleboro are part of a ring of people, that they’re getting driven here from out of town, dropped off to fill their pockets, and then picked up, perhaps as a part of an underground crime scheme. Jeff said he’s seen this happen occasionally, but by and large the folks asking for money are genuine in their claims of needing housing and food.
by Ruth Garbus
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