Friday, April 03, 2009

Another Morning at the Food Bank

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.


kyle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kyle said...

I think it is great you have the time and inclination to help. I have been told the food bank would rather receive cash donations as opposed to food donations. I think a lot of times people donate food that they don't want, like that can of yams that's been in the pantry since the cold war and those smelts in mustard. With cash the food pantry can buy what they want and hopefully satisfy the needs of it's participants. There is a subculture in our country right now that consists of dumpster divers in search of food. I personally know a man that lives this way. He knows when restaurants and bakeries throw away food. The group he is involved with is called Food Not Bombs and they feed countless homeless and hungry people in Columbus...all with food that was being thrown away. Perhaps we could learn to be less wasteful and there would be more dignity to go around.

MmeBenaut said...

Rotten eggs are worse! Good for you for volunteering at the food bank. You're right of course - full employment would be good but there will always be those who don't earn enough - like your dishwash lady - or gamble or drink it away but still need to eat. We humans are full of foibles.
I've never been to a food bank but I've been to the supermarket just before closing and found some bargains on bread and, believe it or not, roasted chickens that must be sold fresh.
That "bless the lord" fellow must have driven you almost completely bats!

lynn said...

Well done Robyn, great thing to do. I have smelled a rotten potato, yes it's just awful!
I hope the dishwasher soon finds something better. I think she will. Blessthelord.

dive said...

Hee hee. You'll have us all "blesstheLord"-ing, Robyn.
What a great post. The food bank certainly seems to be getting busier, which is not a good sign, but it IS a good sign that folk like you are there to help.

Anonymous said...

Good for you for volunteering. This economy can be really discouraging, and it's good that there are people like you in the world.

Maria said...

I have a huge garden in the summer and at the end of each week, we fill up the back of my partner's truck and cart vegetables to the food bank. Once, when a man was helping us unload them, he told me that he came every friday night specifically because he loved fresh okra and I brought it. I'm planting double this year for him.

Once you work at these places, you can never go back to your comfortable place or listen to those who go on and on about people who are too lazy to work. I know better. I've seen so much. I've see so many Francie Nolans and her family at this place and it breaks my heart.

Good on you, Scout.

PF said...

Is that the same gentleman that says "God bless you amen" all in one phrase?? :)

Scout said...

PF, the very same.

lynn said...

So you didn't reply to your comments of yesterday. What's granola?