It's 8:30 in the morning and as I walk up the sidewalk past the benches outside the food bank office, there are already several people in line. There is a woman with two small children, an elderly couple and various other people from different backgrounds. It seems each day I come in, there are more and more people. I greet them all with a smile and a good morning and carry on with my daily routine. I start a few pots of coffee and when done, I offer it to those in line. Seeing children in line with their parents is not a rare occurrence so I convinced the pastor to purchase a small bench, color books and crayons for them while they wait. They are always so appreciative when I set up the bench. Kids are kids and they love having something to do as opposed to trying to be patient waiting in line for some food with their parents.
I feel it is part of my job to ensure these people do not feel embarrassed or made to feel unwelcome by coming to us to ask for help. Whatever the situation is that brought them to us is not the concern. The most important thing is to make sure they get some food which will hopefully allow them to save a little bit of money and perhaps get back on their feet.
A typical food box contains everything you would probably expect. There is a multitude of canned goods including soup, vegetables and sauces. There are also boxes of cereal, bags of rice and pasta, cans of pasta sauces and occasionally a can of coffee or--better yet--boxed cake mixes and flavored gelatin mixes. Most everyone that passes through is grateful and gracious for what is on offer and as they carry the food to their car you can't help but wish you could help them in more ways than providing a box of food.
Beyond the typical items, our food bank offers something a bit more. I am not sure when it started but I think it was when a resident who lives close to the church brought in two large boxes of squash. He explained he had more than enough in his garden and rather than let the extra produce go to waste, he thought perhaps people might enjoy some fresh garden vegetables and they most certainly did. From this point on people were bringing in tomatoes, zucchini and much more. Remember that watermelon article I wrote a while back? I brought in a couple of subsequent melons in for our food bank clients to enjoy. Right now in Arizona, we are fortunate enough to be harvesting citrus. My in-laws have a large lemon tree with seemingly hundreds of lemons and I have brought in boxes full for people to enjoy. Lemon, honey and hot water is a lovely thing to enjoy this time of year. By the time this article is published I will have harvested my carrots and I will have more than I could ever eat so I look forward to bringing a few bags to the food bank. It pleases me to know these people who are in need can enjoy some healthy, fresh produce from a local garden. As time goes by I plan to share all my future bounties with my fellow brothers and sisters waiting in line for food.
If you have a kitchen garden or an allotment I would like to ask you to consider sharing some of your excess produce with those in need. It is such an incredibly rewarding experience. There are local food banks nearly everywhere and they are easy to find. Your small gift of food and produce grown by your own hands will make a difference in somebody's life. You will bring smiles and tears of joy to someone who barely has anything. So, when you ask yourself what you will do with all those extra tomatoes, perhaps I have provided an answer. One thing I would like to mention is that most people give more during the holiday season. That is a wonderful thing because the demand is higher as well but remember when the holidays are gone there will still be people out there who still need your help.
I wrote this article after a conversation I had with a woman who came into my office wanting to talk. She was visiting the church for a performance and noticed the people in line at our food bank. "Are there always young children waiting with their parents for food?" "Nearly every day." "I placed some food items in the giant bin at the grocery store and had no idea what happened after that." "This is what happens. They are gathered up and brought to individual food banks and given out to the many people who need it most." "I wish everyone could see this so we can appreciate how fortunate most of us truly are." "So do I. So do I."
All images are from Wikimedia Commons