Food for Thought

I don’t spend much time volunteering in the schools as of late, with my youngest in the seventh grade. In his youth, I was a reading tutor for years, helping other students in his school develop the same sense of joy that he now enjoys, reading through pages of the latest fantasy fiction or sports novel.

Back in September, during PTA sign up week, I checked off November food drive, thinking that was far enough away for me to not have to plan for it in the present. There were no dates to mark down, so I tucked the notion away.

Following Halloween, a pleasant e-mail arrived, gently reminding me of my commitment. It was also a quite lengthy e-mail regarding all the volunteer opportunities that existed to serve one single purpose, using the Loveland students and families to help stock the pantry for Thanksgiving.

Each classroom and grade was given specific assignments for boxed rolls, canned broth, bags of stuffing. Each volunteer was asked to take on one or several of many roles, including sign maker, box bringer, children organizer, hot chocolate money collector. I speed read through the list of wants and needs, offered to make signs and committed to being there on the day of, to collect the food staples and stack them high.

When the day arrived, I showered, had my coffee and literally felt as if I were going of to work. The space for the food pantry drive was the gymnasium of a church I once considered attending. Because I liked their music, because I liked the time of their services and mostly because I could sit in the back, with Davis in the Sunday school and contemplate my life. Space to be at peace.

So it was I the same building, where children snaked through lines, sometimes missing the right pile, placing canned fruit in the canned broth section, or mistaking stuffing mix for roll mix.

But my favorites were the muffin mixes instead of roll mixes, creamed rice as an alternative to what, I don’t know. The expired labels on canned goods, the non readable labels on canned goods – how do manufacturers get away with that one? The beef broth instead of chicken broth and the gallon cans of golden yams. I have a family of six, but had no clue they came in these hefty sizes.

The group of volunteers mixed and matched canned veggies until I would later see the labels in my sleep – aftereffects of a Kinkead Ridge Red and Jeff’s BBQ in Landen. The tables were late in arriving due to power outages, so first, we stacked the goods on the floor, then we boxed, then we stacked again on tables.

As I began to make my way through he myriad of vegetable offerings, a chill traveled up my spine. I began to consider how often I had donated to food pantries in the past – rather nonchalantly. I would simply peek inside my cupboard, too tired to drive to Meijer – only a ½ mile from my door – places where I have walked to in the past. In the past, I might have been the contributor of the creamed rice, or certainly, being Italian, provided canniloni beans or chi-chi beans. I would have donated beef broth, because it was what I had. And yes, some blueberry muffin mix, instead of the rolls. And while I think the patrons of the pantry would appreciate the variety and my intentions were always clear, my mind was not.

In that space, when that thought occurred to me, I was rather embarrassed of my past actions when I hadn’t taken the time to check expirations, when I might have been in a hurry in the grocery store and perhaps picked up pork –flavored stuffing for the turkey or muffin mix instead of roll mix. Or even bought the generic jellied cranberry sauce instead of Ocean Spray, because it was closest to the cart.

I don’t discount any of the offerings or donations made that day by students who were participating in the activity with some sense of understanding of the predicament of the homeless and the hungry. Clearly, there are students in the district that may visit the pantry later that week, with a different purpose. They will be the client who gets to choose which canned vegetables they want – even if it is baked beans- or pick out pancake mix, instead of bread mix. Who knows, the pilgrims probably served some version of them!

But I will think clearly next time that this food passes from my hand to that of someone else in need and even if the ink for the expiration date rubs off on my hand as I pass it on, I will know its safe.



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