“As I finish writing about this unpleasant part of my life, I tell myself that was then, and there is now, and the years between now and then, and the then and now are one.”-Lillian Hellman
As the coordinator of a Food Bank pantry, I was trained by, supervised by, evaluated by, and inspected by the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley.
THESE INSPECTIONS WERE ALWAYS INFORMATIVE, INTERESTING, AND A RELIEF TO HAVE BEHIND ME. I categorized them in several “Stages”.
A STAGE ONE INSPECTION was pre-arranged by either the Food Bank or myself. The representative from the Food Bank showed up at the appointed time, carried a clip board with a form which was filled out. After the inspection, we all signed the paperwork, made small talk and the person left.
The questions dealt with the food on the shelves, how clean the room was, how far the shelves were from the walls. The Good Neighbor Food Pantry never passed this 6″ limit but no one ever said anything. The pantry room was simply too small.
A STAGE TWO INSPECTION WAS A PHONE CALL.
“Thurman, how are you doing? I’m calling because we’ve received a complaint. Someone called and reported a shopper standing outside the pantry crying. What happened?”
“I don’t know. I’ll get back with you as soon as I can find out?”
“When do you think we’ll hear from you?”
“As soon as possible. I’ll ask some volunteers and get a handle on the situation. Thanks for calling.”
At a Stage Three inspection, someone called, wrote, or visited the Food Bank with enough venom, concern, clout (you choose the word) to cause a person to get up from his/her desk, go out to the parking lot and drive to Woodstock to inspect the situation in person on the same day.
MY FIRST STAGE THREE INSPECTION WAS THE RESULT OF A PHONE COMPLAINT, I THINK. I never knew for sure. Things were urgent enough that a USDA inspector came out from Albany in a State of New York car. He was a handsome young African American man (in his 40’s) wearing a white shirt and conservative necktie. The minute he walked in the door, I knew something was up. After all, who ever comes to the pantry in Woodstock wearing a shirt and necktie?
When he left two hours later, he knew “what color my skivvies were” as my grandmother used to say. He went over inch of the pantry, asked a million questions and took a kazillion notes. This man not only found out everything there was to know about the pantry, he realized early on that I was a brand new coordinator.
HE BECAME A WONDERFUL TEACHER AND I LEARNED A LOT ABOUT HOW TO MANAGE A PANTRY FROM HIM. I asked him a million questions back and also took a kazillion notes. When he left, I felt I had a friend and the knowledge I gained gave me confidence in my performance. Needless to say, my score was wonderful.
When in Albany the next week, I told one of the Food Bank employees about my recent inspection. Her face blanched as I talked. This gentle, well mannered, kind young man was the nastiest inspector on the circuit. He was only sent out when someone was really messing things up and needed to be “taken to the woodshed.”
A NOTE TO WHOMEVER COMPLAINED THAT DAY: the inspection was thorough, fair. I passed with flying colors. Thanks!
One important thing I learned from him: It’s not necessary to ask shoppers for identification. No one is required to show anything to get food. The people do need, however, to share their names, the number of people in the household and how many seniors, adults, and children are in the household.
HE ESPECIALLY LIKED THE CHAIRS LINING THE HALLWAY AND THE FRESH PRODUCE IN THE PANTRY.
As he left, he had one suggestion: get office space in the pantry. He and I both knew that it wasn’t going to happen. The building committee finally allowed me to store records but I couldn’t use any space as an office.
AND, OF COURSE, BOTH THE CHAIRS AND THE PRODUCE WERE VERY CONTROVERSIAL.
AFTER I FINAGLED STOREROOM SPACE, I REQUESTED AN INSPECTION. I wanted to avoid a confrontation further down the road if the room didn’t meet Food Bank standards. We passed that inspection.
EVERYTHING WAS CLEAN, SAFE, AND SANITARY.
ONCE WE BEGAN OUR TAKE OUTS, A FOOD BANK INSPECTOR CAME OUT AND SPENT ABOUT TWO HOURS WITH PEGGY JOHNSON. She answered all Peggy’s questions, got a very clear understanding of what Peggy was doing, how she was doing it, and who was receiving the food. When she left, Peggy was confident in her role of Take Out Manager for the pantry.
WHEN MIRIAM’S WELL WAS ON THE ROAD, WE HAD AN INSPECTION UNDER THE TREE AT ST. GREGORY’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH. No one was ever more excited about that inspection than I. We were proud of Miriam’s Well and how the shoppers were responding to the experience.
WE HAD ONE DISTURBING STAGE THREE INSPECTION. I pulled into the parking lot one pantry day afternoon to find a Food Bank representative waiting for me.
“Thurman, we’ve received some serious complaints about a volunteer stuffing her vehicle with food while hungry people are lined up and waiting to receive their food at the Mass Food Distributions. What is the story here? Is this a fair distribution of food?”
“I’ll look into it immediately.”
OVERALL, OUR INSPECTIONS WERE POSITIVE. The only negative one was the inspection in the parking lot of the food pantry.
Peace and food for all.
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