"FOOD PANTRY CHRONICLE"
The air sharp and biting, the day bright and clear, 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday January 6 , I positioned my car near the ramped side entrance of Mission Marshall where I then deliver our evening offerings each week. As I drove up I noticed a group of about fifteen people clustered around the front door. I had never seen such a gathering before, but was not surprised because the food pantry had limited hours the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s. Today, in fact, was the first opening of a new month and year.
The group graciously made room as Debby Dean and I were admitted through the front door. I headed immediately through to the pantry area to raise the door and bring in our food offering of 51 items and weigh and record them. I greeted John and Marilyn Jadrosich, first time volunteers, who were already there. Very shortly, Jane Ogden, Bob Spencer, and JoLynn Cucinotta joined us and our crew of seven was complete. Debby oriented the Jadrosiches, after which she and JoLynn spent most of their day with the receiving of food gifts and the stocking of shelves as the rest of us, using the five available baskets, assisted folks through the selection process.
The seating area in the lobby filled up as people were processed at the front desk and their slips dropped in the file from which we took and called out names to our clients. I grabbed my first basket, fumbled open five plastic bags, took a slip, and greeted my initial client of the day. First stop on our journey was food for the family’s four-legged companions. The Humane Society of Harrison County’s “The Pet Place” generously provides bags (and sometimes cans) of cat and dog food which my first client like most of those I served needed.
Then came the staples of flour, detergent, milk, and cereal. For cereal we had corn flakes, bran flakes, several hot cereals and what Debby later kidded me about when she noticed that I was describing them as “resembling Cheerios.” The next section was canned vegetables, well-stocked with sweet and white potatoes, spinach and turnip greens, cream and kernel corn, tomato sauce, green peas, string beans, etc. This was the slowest section in part because of the variety of choices and also because the number of items was the largest.
One woman I served could not use a can opener due to a stroke and requested only cans with flip tops. I was at first dismayed, but discovered as we progressed (thanks in part to the
donations of food not purchased in bulk by the pantry) that I was able to fulfill her request in every section! Now we reached the protein area with its choices of canned meats, stews,and beans. In addition to the standard tuna, chicken, and beef stew, we and our clients were delighted to discover full-size cans of salmon about which we shared mutual interests as salmon patties sizzled in our minds and tantalized our taste buds. Beans of all descriptions were available: pork and beans, black, refried, barbecued, pinto, lima, navy, black-eyed peas and more. Bread, canned fruit, and frozen meat came next. The sausages played out early on, but the ground beef in sauce was available all day.
The fruit was a good selection (not like the old times when unsweetened applesauce, often refused, was the only option). Today, we had peaches, pears, mandarin oranges, pumpkin, and cranberry sauce. Several commented on how much they liked the mandarin oranges, one client selected the cranberries, and one mentioned that pumpkin made a good base for dips (a usage we had in common). Now to the pasta section: an example of unsuccessful social-engineering. The disliked and discontinued applesauce of the fruit section might be gone and the beloved bags of sugar now only a distant memory, but in this area of highly salted meat helpers and macaroni and cheese, the uncooked and unsalted pasta options were today all brown and healthy whole wheat. (One client asked me, “Don’t you have any white pasta?” Unfortunately, the answer all day was, “No, we do not.”) As a result, all my clients refused the alien looking two pound bags of spaghetti and loaded up on unhealthy choices: the mac’ and cheese and the tuna, chicken, and hamburger helpers.
The next to last section is “miscellaneous” (and my favorite because it’s where folks express their individuality most). Spices, sauces, condiments, sugar, Jello, puddings, cookies and many other items appear. Toothpaste and -brushes are quickly snapped up. On the other hand, even as choices diminished through the day, the black olives remained orphans. I expected the same fate for the jar of capers, but finally, late in the day, had a man who was drawn to them. I told him that they were very salty and could be used for seasoning in salads and meat dishes. He asked if they were berries and I explained that they were plant buds. Success: he decided to give them a try!
With a quick stop at the soup section, we finished our circuit and the basket, liberated from the congested service area, pushed its way through the lobby, the front door and to the waiting cars that still thronged the parking lot. That day the baskets carried 109 loads, just under the pantry’s record number of 113! We volunteers were able to sit down only for a few minutes somewhere near midday and with a surge of folks getting in just before two o’clock, it was 2:20 p.m. before all were served. But though exhausting, it was an exciting day of service to a group of thankful, gracious and patience folks.
The next day Randy and Melissa Wilson, Dallas Dean, Bill Spurr, andreturnees JoLynn Cucinotta, Jane Ogden, and Debby Dean would serve another one hundred plus people and on Friday, Bob and Peggy Spencer, Jewell Bogue, and Chuck Abma would join Debby and JoLynn to serve more than seventy folks. In all we supplied some sixty-five hours of volunteer service to around 287 clients. I share all this as a reflection on the end-point of service which begins here each Sunday evening as our gifts of food and money are brought down the aisle to be offered to God.
Rusty once told me that in a meeting when he was referring to our food gifts, he said, “It’s not a ton but it helps.” In fact, we were very little short of a ton last year. The weight of our gifts runs on average 5% more than our item count, which means that for 2014 our elders and deacons brought some 1,927 pounds of food down this aisle. And with our monetary gifts of $1,706, I would guess that we easily provided more than two tons of food for the feeding of God’s hungry people in Harrison County. Thanks be to God!
Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Marshall,
2nd Sunday of Epiphany, January 18, 2015