I took a couple of weeks off. The news of the robbery at one of the food pantries in which I volunteer, coupled with the realization that most of the kids in my school district, who receive free or reduced lunch, will potentially go without some meals over the summer due to a lack of summer feeding locations in our area, caused me to become very discouraged. I felt overwhelmed by the size of the problem and my inability to make a noticeable difference. Rather than spread my pessimism, I decided to take a break from writing over the past couple of weeks. I am happy to say that the tide has turned on my negative attitude.
Even though I was not writing, I continued to volunteer. Last week I volunteered at the food pantry that had been robbed for the first time since the robbery. I was inspired by a couple of things. First, in spite of everything, the pantry was still operating as normal and had been since the robbery. Somehow they had managed to find a way to compensate for the equipment they lost and were still able to give out the items that needed refrigeration–milk, eggs, cheese and frozen meats. Additionally, the staff and volunteers had not let this crime dampen their spirits or commitment to those in need in their community. Our area has had a very hot, humid start to summer, and one of the items taken in the robbery was the air conditioner. Without air conditioning, in a building without windows, sitting in an unshaded parking lot, on a day the temperature was expected to climb into the 90s, the doors were thrown open to those in need and clients were welcomed with smiles and hugs. I was buoyed by their unshakable commitment to provide assistance to those in need in spite of the hardships their organization faced.
This past Tuesday I volunteered in the other food pantry and had different, but equally uplifting experience. Perhaps you have read or heard on the news recently about various states wanting to ban junk food from the allowable items that SNAP beneficiaries can purchase. The reasoning behind this proposed regulation is the belief that people receiving assistance choose to purchase less nutritious food over more nutritious options. I read a great article in Mother Jones magazine by Tom Philpott that sheds light on why SNAP beneficiaries often purchase less healthy items, and also makes a claim that their purchases are not very different from those receiving no assistance. I now have first hand experience showing, that given a choice, people receiving assistance will happily take the more nutritious option. The food pantry on Tuesday had received a huge shipment of produce from the county food bank in it’s weekly delivery. They had fresh cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens, lettuce, red and green cabbage and corn on the cob. Additionally there were frozen blueberries, diced carrots and pureed tomatoes. We had no trouble getting clients to take this produce. Many eagerly took some of everything. It felt like Christmas and I was Santa Claus! Incidentally, the previous week the other food pantry put out some beets and lettuce from their garden, and they too were being readily taken by clients.
The problem of hunger in America is much greater than one person or organization can hope to solve, and it is very easy to allow that reality to weigh one down and bring despair. I am grateful for the my experiences volunteering. They lift my spirits and inspire me to continue doing what I can to help. I have seen the difference that these food pantries and the people who run them make in the lives of the clients who use them.