Hunger Is Not a Disease

Food, Sex, and Money In The Food Pantry

“We all come to our work, whatever it is, with our own peculiar set of biases, programmed into us by all we have experienced throughout our lives, including both everything done to us and everything we have done to others. – Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato

If I’ve learned anything it’s that there are three words/issues more concerned with a person’s core beliefs, emotions, and spiritual attitudes than anything else. The big three are: sex, food, and money.
THESE THREE WORDS OFFER RULES FOR EVERYONE.   We each have core beliefs around these subjects with opinions about what’s okay and what’s not okay. We have attitudes about food, sex, and money based on what we were taught by family members and peers when we were children. We may have attended classes on these subjects. Also, we have guidelines we’ve made based on life experiences.

Reduced to their lowest common denominator, these words are the same. They touch our core beliefs in ways going straight to the heart and soul.
Reduced to their lowest common denominator, our attitudes, opinions, and feelings about feeding the hungry may or may not be based on facts, statistics, or reality. Nor can our attitudes be changed by facts, statistics, information.
Finally, you have beliefs about who it’s okay to feed and I have beliefs about who it’s okay to feed. My beliefs are based on life experiences, facts, statistics. Your beliefs are based on your life experiences, facts, statistics. I may take classes, go to therapy. You may take classes, go to therapy. And, your reality about what’s okay and my reality about what’s okay may differ. In the end, no amount of conversation, arguing, books read, TV programs watched will change these two perceptions. In the end, I have my beliefs and you have yours.

WITHIN A YEAR AFTER I BECAME THE PANTRY COORDINATOR, EVENTS CHALLENGED FOOD AND MONEY TABOOS IN OUR COMMUNITY.   Prior to this time, pantries weren’t expected to raise money. With the economic downfall of 2008, Food Bank employees realized that pantries were going to need more than they could get from the Food Bank. The solution? Raise money!
And, raise money I did. Using my own funds, I drove to Rowe in Vermont and took a Kim Kline class. I also bought, and read, her books.

Volunteers sat at a table weekly at the summer farmers’ market. Volunteers were in front of the Sunflower Natural Foods Market monthly. We rented a post office box. Mailers went out. Tom Pacheco held a concert.  Scott Petito, and Leslie Ritter  gave a holiday concert one Christmas.  (When they tried it again the next year, a snow storm interfered.) Gioia Timpanelli organized a story telling evening. Inyo Charbonneau sponsored a dance. Harriet Kazansky produced a music festival.

The first large donation came in at $500. It was a generous donation made to the Good Neighbor Food Pantry after I made a strong appeal to the Town Board.  It was my first public attempt to educate people about the plight of hungry people in our area.  I took the money, divided it among the different pantry congregations, and gave it to the pantry representations of each church.

“I raised this money. Here is your share to use when it’s your congregation’s tour in the pantry.”
Carmen Adler at the Christ Lutheran Church graciously accepted the money.
A woman  at Overlook Methodist Church took the money, stared at it,  then stared at me and then stared back at the money again.
When I went to St. John’s, the pantry representative received the funds for her congregation and  asked “What can I use this money for, Thurman?”
“Use it for whatever your congregation needs in the pantry when it’s your congregation’s turn” was my naïive answer.
When it was St. John’s tour, the volunteers all sported fancy new aprons embroidered with “St. John’s” on the front.
Thereafter, when the pantry received donations, I took the money to Pastor Bode of the Woodstock Reformed Church. He opened a bank account. I spent money for food, office supplies, and gas used in pantry activities. I took the receipts to Pr. Bode for reimbursement.

Money  spent on gas was used to get the food from Latham and Cornwall to the pantry weekly. And, thanks to the generosity of local residents, we kept the pantry well stocked with food. This is extremely important when one realizes that a round trip to Latham costs about $45 to return with 1200 pounds of absolutely free produce. AS FAR AS THE PANTRY WAS CONCERNED, 1200 POUNDS OF PRODUCE COST $45 AT THE FOOD BANK.   What a deal!

We set aside money for a building. I finally decided, privately, that the funds needed came to $500.000. A committee headed by Peggy Johnson began looking high and low for a building. She finally came up with the same number. It seemed as if the building owners in the Woodstock were sitting back, rubbing their hands together and waiting to see which building owner was going to win the money we were trying to raise from the townspeople.

Those people acted as if they were soooo tired of having a pantry in their building.
Those people acted as if they were soooo tired of having Thurman Greco as the pantry coordinator.
Those people acted as if they were soooo ready for their pantry to return to the glorious pre-2008 days when the pantry was open a couple of hours one morning a week, with a parking lot that was not overcrowded, and the unworthy hungry weren’t in the hallway.

Whatever.  We raised money.  And, thanks to the training provided by the Food Bank of Northeastern New York, our pantry weathered the storm following the downfall.

Food – That word caused more problems than any other for me as a pantry coordinator.

Who is it okay to feed?
How much?
How dare you serve that kind of food to this kind of people?
How dare you serve the unworthy hungry people?
How dare you feed people from outside of town?

Money – That word caused the second most problems for me as a pantry coordinator.

How dare you ask people for money at the farmers market?
How dare you send mailers out asking for money?
How dare you have fundraisers?
Peace and food for all.
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Thurman Greco

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