“Maddi’s Fridge” coupled with “Walk in My Shoes” yields unique perspective

Since our friends and acquaintances come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, we opted to see Childsplay’s original production of Lois Brandt’s 32-page story “Maddi’s Fridge.” Besides giving us a special outing to the theater, we thought it would also give us a different perspective than the one our two sets of eyes see every day.

Our gamble to the theater did not disappoint and neither will yours.

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The three young actors impressed us with their talent beyond line memorization and character portrayal. There was Shannon Phelps’ ability to expertly scale a rock climbing wall, Edward Alvarado’s and Osiris Cuen’s mastery of puppetry to animate their characters’ “Pepito” puppy, plus Alvarado’s joyful approach to doubling as a techie when he changed set design and props between scenes. My fifth-grader also applauded Holly Windingstand’s overall set design that allowed the audience a peek into the home of two families at once instead of awaiting scene changes.

Families of all sizes might also appreciate the total kid’s perspective in the play. Each kid’s mom is mentioned within the script, but never brought to life empowering the kids to be the agents of change.

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We each found something in our own lives we could relate the story to as well:

  • “Maddi’s Fridge” brought me back to reality. Shortly into the story about two young school friends and the discovery that one goes home to an empty fridge, I said to myself, “Clearly this book wasn’t set in the Valley of the Sun or she would know about organizations like St. Vincent de Paul or any of the other area food banks or community dining rooms.” Shortly thereafter I came to my senses and realized that, even if Maddi and her mom knew of such resources, humbling themselves enough to take advantage of them would have been a huge hurdle. Then came a key line from Sofia, Maddi’s faithful friend: Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re not strong. That became a central message the actors sent home with families during a brief discussion at the end of the play.
  • For my fifth-grader, she realized that the film “An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong” offers a light comparison to “Maddi’s Fridge.” Part of the film deals with Chrissa and how she looks beyond a classmate’s temporary “homeless” status by befriending her anyway. My daughter and I have done the same thing over and over again the last several years with people we encounter at a nearby family homeless shelter.

We happened to bump into an acquaintance on the way out of the theater. It just so happened he was at work earlier that day and still sporting his black “Feed. Clothe. House. Heal” T-Shirt that St. Vincent de Paul is becoming known for. Turns out he attended the production on a whim because he was once a “Childsplay” actor himself and knew the cast of “Maddi’s Fridge.” He entered the theater not knowing the plot, but exited saying, “We deal with Maddi’s every day” at St. Vincent de Paul.

He is right. People throughout the community work daily to help end hunger, but only if they know of the need. Audiences can help by bringing a canned good or nonperishable with them to the theater. The food will support the Tempe Community Action Agency’s food relief efforts.

Childsplay is great at sharing “Questions for the Ride Home” and other related educational resources related to their productions, but I wanted to add a couple of more:

  • “Walk in My Shoes” exhibit at The Gallery at TCA — The title alone made this impromptu visit to the gallery after “Maddi’s Fridge” the perfect companion trip. It’s a mix of photos, words (with free giveaways and a hands-on activity) and artifacts to encourage each member of the family to consider what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, even if just for a moment. Don’t forget to skim through the free “educator workbook to help you engage yourself and your child(ren).
  • “In Plain Sight” photo exhibit and related article — It ran last summer in the St. Louis area. What caught my attention was the teacher who noticed a student from his own school featured in one of the photos taken by people who were homeless. The teenager, coincidentally named “Mattie,” was eating Spaghettio’s in a hotel room where she lived.
  • “Maddi’s Fridge” (the book) is part of a “Cultivating Compassion” book list about financial hardship hitting close to home. AMightyGirl.com put out the list last fall. Check out the 19 other titles on it.

    I think “Still a Family” will be next on my reading list. It’s about how a family is forced to split up because they apparently don’t live near one of the 200-plus Family Promise affiliates nationwide. They take in the entire family — pets included. Understandably, many shelter systems separate men and women, which in this book, keeps the dad a little bit away, but the parents still find a way to be a family.

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Maddi’s Fridge Left Us Full of Compassion and Taught us New Lessons

It is often difficult to navigate social issues with a children’s platform – Maddi’s Fridge takes a prevalent problem in our society and manages to include humor and friendship to soften the subject and bring a smile to the audience’s faces.

I took my 10-year-old daughter to this play, and admittingly we had not read the story and did not know the message. I was pleasantly surprised by the thought provoking conversation that this performance sparked on our car ride home, and felt my daughter was the perfect age for this story.

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Maddi and Sofia are best friends. Every night after school, each go home to a parentless environment due to work hours. Maddi is an only child and is responsible for chores and homework on her own, while Sofia has her younger brother Luis and dog Pepito to attend to. The split set in the theater allows viewers to see how the evening unfolds for each of the characters in order to express the mindset of a family who lives with less and a family who lives more comfortably. Maddi has bread and milk to eat, as her mother is awaiting payment from work which has not come yet, while Sofia provides her brother with nutritious, balanced meals that her mother has pre-prepared for them.  She often deals with issues that many children take for granted, like her brother wasting food, being a picky eater and begging for special treats like cheesy pizza bombs.

After realizing that Maddi has no food to eat, Sofia tries to be a good friend by stealing food from her own home to help Maddi out, and more importantly, by keeping her food situation a secret, per Maddi’s request. This builds to a dramatic conclusion which ends in Maddi reaching out to a trusted adult to help.

The question to children in the audience is simple – when is it ok to tell a secret? If someone is in danger? If it’s an emergency? If you are worried about a friend and ill equipped to help on your own?

A heavy subject – yes, but a crucial one for our kids. Maddi and Sofia learn about strength – sometimes, you are stronger to admit you need help then trying to deal with a situation on your own. Friendship means guiding each other and not always keeping a secret.

My daughter left this play wanting to donate food to a local shelter and we discussed how we might help heed warning signs if someone we care about seems to be in trouble.  I think most parents would agree, that makes Maddi’s Fridge a huge success.