The past few months have been a whirlwind. When I started out on this venture I wasn’t sure what to expect. I told myself just put one foot in front of the other and take baby steps. As the weeks have passed, I feel like the baby steps have become an all out gallop just to keep up with the volunteering, reading of articles and informational texts and writing this blog. Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem of food insecurity and the little dent I am going to be able to make in alleviating hunger. Most days, however, I am motivated by the people I have encountered along the way and the response I have received to what little I have done so far.
I have been volunteering in two local food pantries for four months now. Volunteering in these pantries has educated me as to who is receiving emergency food services. The clients at the food pantries are young and old, male and female, of all races, and live in large households or alone. In other words they could be anyone, and I suspected as much before I started volunteering. I have also learned, however, that a majority of people who use emergency food services, like a food pantry, live in a household with at least one person in the workforce. In households where no one is working, it is often because members of the household are senior citizens or disabled. A disturbing number of Americans are not able to make ends meet even though they are working. Knowing that fact abstractly is one thing. Looking a person who is experiencing it in the eyes while helping her fill her food basket makes that fact very concrete.
I have also learned that no matter how hard these emergency food agencies try, gaps and shortfalls exist and will continue to exist when providing emergency food. When I started volunteering I thought that clients could come in whenever they needed food. Sometimes that would be every couple of months, but sometimes that might be twice in one month. This is not how emergency food works. Clients can only come in once every 30 days, which isn’t too bad. But here are some other things I have learned. Sometimes there is a waiting list for appointments two weeks long. Food pantries are only open a few days a week and sometimes only during the daytime when many people are at work. Sometimes clients can’t come when the pantry is open. Or sometimes clients can’t get a ride to the pantry. If they walk to the pantry they can only take what they can carry home. Sometimes the food items run low causing rationing, or run out all together.
Not everything I have witnessed from my volunteering experience has been so discouraging though. I have worked several jobs which involved serving the public and very seldom have I experienced such levels of appreciation from those I have served. Additionally, I have enjoyed the warm sense of community and commitment I have found among fellow emergency food volunteers. Providing assistance through emergency food agencies like food banks and pantries is not the answer to the food insecurity problem that I would like to see, but I do feel like through these pantries I am making an important difference in the lives people who need a helping hand and caring face. For now, that feeling sustains me, but also pushes me to keep striving for a better solution.
Similarly, I have been encouraged by the response to this blog. In the two and a half months that I have been writing posts, the number of people following the blog has risen to over 190 people. I have received very positive verbal feedback from several people as well as have had many posts be “liked” by fellow bloggers. Additionally, I have started to receive some comments on my posts and am beginning to see the formation of the online community I hope to foster. In that spirit, I would love to see the number of followers of this blog top 200 by the end of April. If you know someone who is interested in this topic, or even remotely related topics, like cooking or farming, please share this blog with them. Finally, I encourage you to participate in the conversation. Leave me a comment, share an insight, point me in a new direction!