One thing about our pantry that makes us different is that we’re feeding people on a weekly basis ” – Deborah Nigrelli
I walked through the torn plastic curtain covering the entrance to the produce room exactly at 10:30 last Monday morning, just like always.
Except, it wasn’t like always. We hadn’t shopped for produce at the Food Bank in six months.
We parked the van in a slot, raced over to the edge of the Food Bank building and grabbed the only metal flat bed cart available – a 3′ x 5′ wheeled platform to hold all the precious cargo we hoped to find here.
For a few moments, it felt as if we’d shifted into another dimension. Everything looked the same – but it wasn’t. It was as if someone had built a theater set of the Food Bank produce room to trick or fool us. My knee jerk reaction was to ask myself “Where am I…?” Fifty or so years ago, I would have said that I had dipped into the Twilight Zone. But, we don’t say that anymore and I don’t know what people say now anyway.
Then, reality hit. This was the same place with six hard months of wear and tear later. The produce area had simply been “rode hard and put up wet” as my grandmother used to say.
Even the produce cart wasn’t right. It had seriously aged in the last six months. Two wooden slats were missing and one wheel appeared to be about to fall off. We wheeled it over to the produce area. Even though the distance was less than fifteen feet, we doubted the cart would make it. As soon as we got the cart to the produce, we got excited.
Smells waked up our noses: pineapple, oranges, lemons, limes, bananas, onions, tomatoes, asparagus, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, onions, eggplant, broccoli, bread, cakes. We piled it all on the cart as quickly as possible before one of the younger, faster, stronger pantry volunteer shoppers crowded in the room could swoop down and grab all the precious food before us.
It can happen. It has happened. More than once.
“Hey Thurman, look at those pineapples! How many should we get?” she asked as she loaded food onto the cart as fast as she could get her hands on the boxes.
“Listen grab all those carrots. They’re organic.” As I spoke those words, I hefted the 100-lb bag onto the cart.
“Well, look at the apples. They’re organic too.” On the cart went three cases. And, on and on it went. We walked down the line.
In truth, most of the food is organic. It’s also “past its prime” so it’s donated to the Food Bank. Everything given to the Food Bank has been left on the shelves at the super market because it was too old, too big, too small, bruised, misshapen, and left on the shelves at the super market.
In truth, it’s all diverted to the Food Bank on its way to the the landfill.
In truth, I have much in common with this produce. I’m too old, too misshapen, too big, and I’ve been passed by a a few or so times in my life…especially in the recent past.
Shopping here today was like seeing an old friend after a long absence. “Wow. She’s aged. Wow. We’ve all aged.”
For a moment I felt myself aging.
For a moment, I saw myself for what I am – an aging crone accompanied by a retired Woodstock herbalist turned Hindu (Amma) devotee – struggling to lift case after case of food that I shouldn’t lift. But, who else was there?
This haul was some kind of miracle (they all are, actually.) We loaded all this precious food along with cases of cereal, whole wheat pasta, canned green beans, and canned fruit cocktail in the hold of Vanessa, an also aging Dodge Grand Caravan, and returned to Boiceville. We arrived just in time to set up our tables in front of the Wastewater Treatment Plant before the first shoppers arrived.
They trickled up, slowly, some a little hesitant, trying to figure out how to act at a food pantry. Soon, people were visiting, chatting, getting to know one another over apples, asparagus, onions.
In a pantry, we feed alcoholics, artists, child abusers, children, colorful characters, crazies, the disabled, druggies, drunks, elderly men and women, hardworking people juggling two and three jobs, homeless, mentally ill, messed-up people, musicians, normal people, people battling terminal illness, politicians, schizophrenics, thieves, veterans, writers, and volunteers.
Today was a little different from other Mondays, however. We doubled our numbers this week.
This event could have “thrown” other volunteers, just as the appearance of the Food Bank “threw” me earlier in the morning. But, not this crowd. Because all of us working at the Reservoir Food Pantry are experienced, we just went into expansion mode. Before 3:00, we were discussing where we’re going to put the new shelves we’re buying and what specifications our next truck is going to have.
Because, we all know one thing: census numbers rise in a pantry. They don’t go down. The Boiceville area has needed a pantry for awhile so we’re prepared to expand to meet the demand created by the increasing number of shoppers.
Our job is to make sure that we get enough food on our Monday morning trips to Latham…no matter what
Peace and food for all.
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