Today was the first time I have managed to get to a food bank distribution location in over two weeks. My supply of vegetables was almost completely gone when I got in line this morning, and any bread that was left got thrown in the trash with its colorful mold right before I left the house.
Standing in line at a local church, I watched as a handful of volunteers packed paper bags with identical proportions of perfect kale leaves, damp potatoes, questionable onions, beautiful carrots, and fresh broccoli. On top of the vegetables, they added small boxes of tiny tomatoes and yogurt. A plastic bag full of various breads was tossed on top of each.
When it was my turn, I walked into the room that served as an office, and wrote my name and address on the sign-in sheet. I wrote a small “1” in the column for number of people in my household. The person working the desk handed me a card that said “1” and gestured at a nearby table with a pile of garlic french bread.
“You can take one of those if you like.”
“Thanks, but I am allergic to those.”
The worker directed me to a stash on the windowsill of the precious few loaves designed for folks with allergies. I took the one with the most variation in grains. When you live on food bank food, you never know when you’ll be lucky enough to get a balanced diet. Variety is important for staying healthy. Staying healthy is important for doing well in school. Doing well in school is important for breaking out of the cycle and making a life that will one day allow me to buy my own food.
I walked back out of the room and handed my card to the attendant before waiting on the painted line. I mentioned that I have food allergies, and would need to go through the food and give back what I can’t eat. I know I have friends I could give it to, but that just feels wrong when there is a whole line of hungry people behind me.
The attendant told the volunteers that I needed 1 bag of food, and a place to go through it. A volunteer took me to a nearby patch of sidewalk and set the paper bag with its plastic bag crown on the ground in the sun. I mentally thanked my body for its silence as far as my old sports injuries are concerned. Some days, I would not be able to sort food on the ground. Today was not one of those days.
I soon handed the plastic bag back to the volunteer, as nothing in it was edible for me. The yogurt went back, too, as did the tomatoes. I put the vegetables that did not look like they were beginning to rot into my shoulder bag, and handed the rest back in the paper bag.
When I got to my car, I texted my friend what I had gotten today.
“Cashew milk, brown rice bread, onions, cabbages, tiny potatoes, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower.”
“Yep!” I replied. “All two food groups are delicious.”
A part of me feels like I shouldn’t complain. After all, I get enough food to not feel hungry most of the time. I don’t, however, get a balanced diet. I don’t get what I need to be healthy. I think that’s worth complaining about.