Tag Archives: food

An Amazing Food Bank Day

Food Bank Food

Saturday morning, I woke with the sun in my eyes, just rising over the hills outside my window. Excitedly, I hurried to dress and fetch my reusable bags. Today was the day I would finally get good food to eat. Food that would not be rotting. Food I would enjoy eating.

I drove across town to the church where the distribution would be. It doesn’t start until 9am, but some folks had already been there for two hours when I got there at 8. I placed my bags on the ground behind the line of bags of those before me, and dashed into the bathroom. Before I got back, they started handing out numbers, so I lost my spot, but I was still #437, and they started that day with #413, so there really weren’t many people ahead of me.

I walked through the courtyard in search of a patch of warm, direct sun. People, mostly 40+ (and probably half of them were 65+) intermingled, laughed together, and partook of free coffee and pastries provided by the church program. That atmosphere was so much more pleasant than the one of the Wednesday morning location – despite a large degree of crossover in the user group – that it struck me once more as being a beautiful bit of social engineering.

When my number was called, I took my place in the food line. I wrote my name on the sign-in sheet, a little “1” for number of people in my household, and “0” for number of children. Every time I do that I pat myself on the back for good choices. Some folks make poverty and children work out okay, but it’s not a thing I desire for myself.

I looked up from the table to see a line of food tables down the middle of the church gymnasium. Each one was piled with food, with volunteers standing on one side to control portions and to help stack more food on the tables as they emptied. A line of hungry people stretched through the gym on the other side of the tables, slowly trickling along.

The first table I came to had two coolers so big I could probably fit inside them – and I am rather tall. Each was filled with packages of raw meat, most of it from Trader Joe’s. As I was only one person, I was limited to one small package, but I got to choose which one I wanted, and that is part of what makes all the difference about this location. I am treated like a person there. Folks address me by name, and ask about my life, and assume that because I am a human, I will have my own tastes and preferences in food, and that this is normal and to be respected. They even refer to the process of going through the line for food as “shopping.” The fundamental ability to choose is really far more humanizing than a lot of people understand, I think.

After meat was the dairy table. Beyond that they had an entire table dedicated to the specialty grab-and-go sort of things that expired that week at grocery stores, but were still good to eat. Sometimes they have sushi. Prepared salads are the most common. After that was the one table in the whole row that has nonperishable food. We are usually given our choice of one small bag of one type of grain, and our choice of one can. It totally destroyed my image of what poor people get from programs like these.

The next three tables were covered in fresh fruits and vegetables. Whatever is in surplus from local farms, or about to expire in local grocery markets, is what we get to eat. This place (unlike the Wednesday place) never gives us rotten vegetables with the expectation that we should be happy we are getting anything at all. Vegetables at Saturday’s location may look a little droopy sometimes, but when that happens the workers all look apologetic, which I find adorable and heartening. Again, this place is humanizing in ways all the others could take a lesson from.

The last table was covered in dessert items. Cookies, pies, cupcakes, even sheet cakes sometimes, and more! The last thing after the tables was bread. There was a set of wheeled shelves that has the freshest bread, and each household got their choice of one loaf from that, but there was a row of boxes along the far wall with the rest of the surplus bread. We are usually asked to take as much as we want from those boxes, lest the surplus be thrown away. The only exception is when there is less bread than usual and/or more hungry people than usual.

When I got home, I took the above photo of the food I had chosen. I will eat very well this week. (In fact, I already have.) Not only that, but the way this place runs their program has boosted my mental health by giving my self esteem a dose of validity, and that is just as valuable to my success in life as is the nutritious blueberries and pork chops. Indeed, it is more likely to boost me towards a life where I don’t need their services than the food itself.

Snippets from the Week

Any names presented have been changed.

A Morning in Line

This particular food distribution location is my favorite one. I intend to write a post in the future about the full extent of why, but one of the reasons is that folks there are pleasantly social. This distribution location doesn’t use lines in the traditional sense. Instead, they use a “take a number” system. The result is that folks actually talk to one another. With the freedom to move about a pretty church courtyard from group to group, it almost feels like a family reunion full of folks you’ve only ever met in passing.

Ages of patrons waiting for food ranged from 20s to way too old for estimation. Most folks looked well over 40. Many of them had long-wrinkled skin and used wheel chairs or other mobility assistance devices. Several of them asked my name, and I began making new friends.

As usual, I managed to be using the restroom during the morning prayer. I wouldn’t call myself an atheist per se, but I also do not have a desire to pray to a God I don’t believe in. Silently refraining from joining the group prayer prior to food distribution earned me nasty looks from other patrons on my first few visits. Conversely, the folks running “God’s Pantry” took no apparent offense to my discrete abstinence from prayer.

I emerged from the restroom with freshly washed hands clutching my numbered ticket. I asked one of my new acquaintances if I had missed anything important during announcements. He told me that there was a registered nurse there that day, and directed me to her.

I asked the nurse about some concerning symptoms I had. She urged me to see a doctor at my earliest convenience. I thanked her, and went back to waiting my turn.

An Afternoon in Class

My calculus teacher wrote the number of students who received each letter grade on our first test on the white board:

  • 6 – A
  • 6 – B
  • 12 – C
  • 5 – D
  • 4 – F

“What a lovely bell curve,” I thought to myself as I awaited my exam. The teacher walked about, placing each one face down on the desks. Finally it was my turn.

I stared at the back of my test, then flipped it over as if I was ripping off a bandage. My heart danced a little with joy at what I saw.

“What did you get?” asked my study buddy from the desk behind me.

I showed him the big “96% Nice Job!” across the top of my page. He grinned. His score was a 97%. High-fives were had.

An Evening in the Store

I am a superstar at the retail store where work. I’ve got the brain of a problem-solving engineer and the heart of a compassionate teacher. The combination makes me perfect for any employer who wants proactive employees.

I can do anything on the sales floor except work in the coffee shop, including all the things with special training, which means I often don’t get my assigned tasks completely done. My bosses are okay with that, though; they know I am putting out fires.

On this particular evening, the line at the returns desk became wondrously long, so I hopped back there to help out. My last customers consisted of a couple who had come to return their coffee maker because the latch button which allows the coffee to be poured from the carafe had broken off. Their receipt had not expired, but we were out of stock on that model.

It took some convincing as they had their heart set on that exact model, but I walked the couple back to the coffee display to see if we could find something similar that they liked. We couldn’t, but I got an idea, and I pulled out my walkie.

“Nancy, do you copy, Nancy?”

“Go for Nancy,” my manager responded.

“I have some folks with me who would like to return a coffee maker, but we are out of stock on the model they want. It’s just a small piece on the carafe that’s broken, though. Is it okay if we just switch it out for the display model’s carafe?”

“Is theirs still in good enough condition that our display will look nice?”

“I think so. It shouldn’t be too hard to glue this piece back on for display.”

“Yeah, that’s fine. Go ahead and do it.”

I peeled the sticker off the display carafe, and handed it to the customers in return for their old one. They left after expressing their happiness. In the break room, I used a cleanser which contained hydrogen peroxide to dissolve the coffee scent from the inside of the pot. It worked remarkably well, although there was still just enough of a hint of it that I hoped it might help drive more sales. When the outside was clean, I put the sticker from the original display model on it. It shined beautifully.

A Night in the Emergency Room

“I’d like you to stay on a clear liquid diet for the next 24 hours or so,” the ER doctor said to me.

I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.

“I can’t really do that, but I’ll try,” I said.

“Clear liquids are things you can see through,” the doctor explained. He must have thought I had not read the papers the nurse had handed me. “So, things like Jell-O, and…” I interrupted during his pause.

“No, you don’t understand. I live off of food bank food. I don’t get a choice. I will do my best, and I’ll try to be gentler with the food I eat, but there’s no way for me to get my hands on clear liquids other than water. They don’t give us Jell-O at the food bank.”

“Oh…okay…” the doctor said, then went about discharging me. Long story short, suffice it to say that the CT scans show I did not have a concussion or internal bleeding, and the blood work was negative for everything, which is a fantastic combination. I know that “Obamacare” has hurt a lot of people in the middle class and probably could have been implemented better, but if it wasn’t for our current healthcare system, I would never have been able to afford a brain scan when nausea and other problematic symptoms followed a head injury.

A Typical Food Bank Day

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.”

“Yum!”

“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.