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.