“I heard you need volunteers. I’m here.”
The man standing at the door of the food pantry room on that gorgeous afternoon in April was short, probably weighed less than 125 pounds, and had a deep voice. Guy looked to be a little younger than me so that put him in his 60’s. Since I’m terrible at guessing ages, I had no idea whether he was about 61 or about 69. I only knew he was too young to be 70..
I had no idea, no premonition, about Guy Oddo being important in the pantry. I completely overlooked the vibe of this momentous event. I always did that. And then, later, I would remember the moment and comment to myself about how, I was never, ever aware of its importance. And, setting eyes on Guy was no exception.
Guy Oddo was destined to become the food pantry hallway czar.
And, it’s just as well. If I’d been aware of what was happening at that moment, I would’ve gotten all excited and jittery and he would have wandered off thinking to himself that he didn’t want to get mixed up with pantry volunteers where a ditzy old cotton top woman hung out.
“Thanks for coming in! Can you greet the shoppers in the hallway today?” As I said this, I took the sign in sheet off a shelf in the pantry room and handed it to him. Since the beginning of my time in the pantry, no one had been specifically assigned to this task. I just handed over the sign in sheet to anybody who would accept it and asked them to sign in the shoppers. If no one was available, I did it myself while I distributed the groceries.
My thought at that moment was that if this man, Guy, who just walked in the door, would hand around awhile, I could, maybe, hopefully, put him in charge of the list. I had handed this list to many would be volunteers over the months. So far, none of them was interested. This list was, incidentally, the single most important piece of paper in the pantry.
People signed their names when they shopped in the pantry. So the list counted the people. Shoppers also shared the members in their household. We always asked “How many children, adults, and seniors are in your household.”
Then, at the end of the month, I added up the totals and sent them off to the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP). These totals were important. They pantry got food every month based on them.
Up to this moment, our list was more a lick and a promise than anything else. With no one person in charge of it, I felt we were losing names which meant we were losing food. More shoppers translated to more food.
As the afternoon wore on and Guy and I worked together, something about his voice convinced me he was going to be around more than a day or even a week, that he wanted a list to take care of.
As it turned out, he wanted not only the list but also the hungry shoppers located all over the place in the overcrowded church parking lot as they waited to get in the basement hallway and then to get in the pantry. The whopper population was made up of hungry people who, for the most part, had been on a spiritual path which ended outside the door of the pantry.
Misfortune was common in the hunger community. Some shoppers seemed to be beaten down by it. The thing I learned from seeing misfortune in action was that it can happen to anyone. The important thing was how they dealt with it. Some overcame misfortune while others were themselves overcome and lost their voices entirely.
“Hi. C’mon in. Sign in. I’ll call you as soon as your number comes up.” Guy greeted the shoppers.
Over time, Guy became the first to first to arrive and the last to leave on pantry day. He was combination greeter, concierge, information desk, hallway policeman, expediter, and director of personnel. And, just because…As I walked into the pantry room to distribute food, I handed him my cell phone. He took calls throughout the afternoon from troubled or inquiring shoppers.
Last, but certainly not least, he made me feel safe.
I never told anyone, but I had several experiences in the pantry and in the community that put fear on the front burner of my life. I knew, as a healer, that evil surrounded my presence in the pantry. Feeding hungry people without strings was not an acceptable philosophy for many people.
I came down on the side of feeding hungry people according to guidelines set down by the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Acceptance Program (HPNAP). Many in town definitely differed.
The bottom line was that I feared that the building committee of the church would shut the pantry down. For me, that would be a catastrophe because the hungry people simply had no place else to go for food.
So, there I was feeding hungry people in a small town food pantry in the basement of a church. Each week the line was longer than the week before. The wait to get in the pantry room to shop for two or three minutes was often an hour – in the broiling heat, the freezing cold, or a flooding rain.
AN OLDER MAN
He shopped in the pantry weekly and never uttered a word. His only message was embroidered on his baseball cap: Korean War Veteran.
This man who fought as a soldier in the brutal Korean conflict in the early 1950’s was now, as an old man, reduced to standing in a line for food.
A FATHER TO BE
“I live in my car. My wife is pregnant. We’ve got her in a woman’s shelter. I’m working two jobs to get the money together for the baby.”
A FAMILY MOVING ON
“We’re really stressed out today. I don’t know where we’re going to go. We got evicted because I don’t have the money to pay the weekly camping fee. The woman next to us in the campground is almost as broke as we are but she gave me $5.00 for gas because we have to leave.”