Sunday, March 9, 2014

Volunteering at the Food Pantry

We take for granted that we can go to the grocery and buy the groceries we need.  On Saturday we got to experience first hand some people who aren't so fortunate.

Yesterday Mike and I volunteered at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry.  Our church volunteers once a month, and we decided to participate. We arrived at the Food Pantry at 8 A.M. ready to work.  When we walked in the front door, I was amazed at the crowd of people seated in the waiting area.  Upon checking in, each person is given a ticket with a number, and they wait in this area until their number is called.

The shopping area was set up in a large "U" shape, and it was filled with produce, dry goods, meat, eggs, frozen foods, bread, milk and canned goods. Each item "costs" a specific number of points, and the client selects the items they want until they have used up their points for the week.  The place was buzzing with activity with folks shopping and volunteers replenishing the supply.  The attitude was upbeat with the shoppers smiling and conversing and the volunteers answering questions.

We were introduced to Don, who showed us the volunteer sign in set us up with name tags.  He took us to the supply area where bulk items were delivered including produce, eggs and frozen foods. These food donations came from Food Banks, the USDA Commodity Program, Kroger, Colonial, local food drives and discounted purchases from other vendors.

Mike started tearing down boxes, and I donned my gloves and began packaging squash into individual plastic bags.  These bags were added to the produce cart which was quickly moved to the shopping area.

I then moved into the egg packing area. There was a pallet of egg boxes, and our job was to repackage these eggs into the egg cartons that held 12 eggs each.  I have never seen so many eggs in my entire life.  I wish I had counted them, but I estimate that four volunteers, including me, packaged hundreds of dozens of eggs.  This was the first time the food pantry had eggs available in about a month, and the clients eagerly put them into their carts.

Next I moved to potatoes.  Basically we took 40 pound bags of potatoes and repackaged them into individual plastic bags.  This wasn't a difficult task, but I never did get used to finding and removing the occasional rotting potato.  I was definitely happy to be wearing my latex gloves.

Next we opened boxes of frozen foods including potatoes, bread, tortillas, mashed potatoes, vegetables and pastry.  Our job was to make sure the packaging was intact, and then to move the packages into a huge walk-in freezer.  Although we could not use opened or torn bags in the food pantry, the food did not go to waste as a local farmer picked up the food for his hogs.  Somehow I have a great visual of some hogs happily munching on french fries yesterday...

And the most unusual food of the day was Brazil nuts.  We repackaged three 50 pound bags of nuts into smaller individual bags. And let me tell you that 150 pounds of Brazil nuts is a lot of nuts!

I used a shopping cart to move some of these individual bags to the shopping area, and I made a small cardboard label so people knew what they were.  I smiled when one guy excitedly asked "are these Brazil nuts?", and another man asked if they were chocolate pieces.  I also saw people pick them up and look at them strangely and return them to the bin.  Possibly an acquired taste...

By noon we were tired and sore from all this standing, lifting and packaging.  We had met some great volunteers, and we felt like we were part of something bigger than ourselves.  We helped get food to people who really needed it.  And as we walked to our car, a client who was unchaining her bike from a street sign, said "Thank you for volunteering and God Bless".  And I know we had smiles on our faces the rest of the day...


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