Have you ever smelled a rotten potato, or worse yet, touched one? Good gracious. Is there a worse smell on earth?
I volunteered at the food bank this morning and was given a variety of tasks. First, while some guys were sorting through chicken parts and putting them into plastic bags, it was my job to tie off the bags with twist ties. We had big boxes of chicken, and we had to put two large pieces—basically half a chicken—into plastic bags for individuals. Then I helped a lady sort through five-pound bags of potatoes. We had tons of them, and some of them had a rotten potato in the bottom of the bag. We had to rip open the plastic, take out the rotten offender, and toss it. Jiminy, that's disgusting.
Once the place opened for business, it was my job to offer containers of Tang. I know what you're thinking, if you're thinking what I'm thinking. Tang? That nasty fake-orange stuff full of sugar? But it's not just orange anymore, and some of the people in line informed me it has less sugar than it used to, and it actually tastes good. They preferred it to soda.
The food bank is in a new building now, a permanent place on the ground floor where they can set up and not have to break down at the end of the day. They have freezers now and shopping carts and a logical system. When customers come in, they fill out a form or refer to one on file that tells how many people they have in their household. Then they are given a corresponding number to show those of us with the goods so we know how much to offer. If someone had a No. 1, I would ask if they wanted a container of Tang. If they had a No. 2 or 3, I would ask if they wanted multiple containers of tang. Eventually the potato lady left, so I would also ask if they would like a bag of potatoes. Some people declined the Tang, but not one person declined the potatoes.
When this food bank first started, it was in a basement room with no freezer or refrigerators. They had few resources and mostly gave away bad food—cheap soup and canned veggies, boxes of macaroni and cheese and expired peanut butter and jelly. But now they offer fresh produce and meat that they buy the day before at the Akron food bank which supplies a lot of smaller places. And people don't just get a bag of crap—now they can actually "shop" and select what they want and say no to Tang if they hate it.
This time around, we had bananas, onions, sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, canned veggies, soy milk, granola bars, cereal, Crunch & Munch, an assortment of juice, and Tang. I think that having a choice about the food you receive helps preserve your dignity, so you aren't just showing up and having somebody shove a bag of sodium-laden, fat-injected, nutrient-deficient garbage at you.
One guy pushed his cart down the isle and told me it was his first visit to the food bank, that he had just moved to the area for a new job, and then he was laid off. He was looking for work but couldn't find any. We both laughed as I handed him a bag of potatoes and said "well, welcome to town anyway." I talked to a woman who washes dishes at a restaurant twice a week and earns $184 every two weeks. It's all she can find at the moment, but she took the tang and said, "It's going to get better, right?"
I worked alongside an older guy who said "Bless the Lord" after every word, like it was one word, like it was a tic and he wasn't even aware he was doing it. "How are you doing, sister, blessthelord?" "It's a rainy day today blessthelord." "Do you need any more potatoes on that skid blessthelord?" He told me that having this food bank was a blessing to this community. I think he's right, but I think it would be a better blessing if we didn't need one and if everyone who wanted a job could find one that paid enough to feed him and his family sufficiently.