Why are you talking about having no bread? – Mark 8:17
“You shouldn’t feed this kind of food to these people. If they are hungry enough, they’ll eat anything.”
There’s a hunger beyond food that’s expressed in food. And, that’s why feeding is always a kind of miracle.
Food helps the sick and injured when the cook’s intention is incorporated in the “broth”.
Delicious food can be one of the last experiences of physical joy for the dying.
Food and healing go together because when you feed others with integrity, you help them heal.
Sharing food in the food pantry is a sacrament.
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The food pantry was in the basement of a church right off the village green.
And, I hadn’t even darkened the door in a church in over thirty years; not as a congregant, not as a guest. The closest I came to the inside of a church or syagogue was a graveside burial service for an older relative in a military cemetery outside Culpepper, Virginia. I also attended a Jewish wedding in a hotel in Baltimore.
When I became a pantry volunteer, I found myself in the local interfaith community, a stranger in a foreign land. Right away I noticed that, intermixed with the need for peanut butter, shoppers showed a strong spiritual need for connection, acceptance. This was the hunger beyond food. The closest many shoppers ever got to a church or synagogue service was the pantry line in the basement of the building.
A food pantry is another way to have a religious service. Sharing food is the prayer. Food distribution in the pantry is a spiritual experience.
When things really get going, pantry volunteers regularly distribute thousands of pounds of cereal, beans, soup, grapes, lettuce, carrots, and squash, bread, cheese, eggs.
A liturgy is hidden in how we process the shoppers through the barn, the hallway, and the pantry room. The pantry offers Communion to a group of people in the middle of a spiritual journey.
In the beginning, I didn’t see this. Then, I began to get glimmers. I saw things in people’s faces – I didn’t know what. I couldn’t explain it. But I recognized it. I saw an expression, and had an “aha” moment.
This Communion doesn’t require much. Shoppers and volunteers simply sign in at the food pantry door. People came from all different places spiritually and religiously: agnostics, atheists, B’Hais, Buddhists, Christians, Confucians, Jains, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Russian Orthodox, Shintos, Sikhs, Zoroastrians.
Early on, I saw something in a person’s face but didn’t know what. I couldn’t pinpoint, describe or explain what I saw.
The man who lost what he believed was the last job of his life…
The old woman with her toddler grandson who chose his own apple at every pantry visit…
The senior wearing a baseball cap with “Korean War Veteran” embroidered on the front…
They came through the line and took what they needed for the week: tomatoes, a bag of salad mix, squash, onions, potatoes. They received what they chose with no strings attached. Our nation’s abundance stocked the pantry.
Volunteers distribute food unconditionally to everyone who shops, without exceptions. Hungry people pour through the basement weekly and leave, their arms loaded. Some of them get almost more fresh produce and Bread Alone bread than they can carry.
And, if they can’t carry it, Richard, Robert, Jamie, and Little Mikey (the entire Allen family) help.
This family has a mission. They help get supper from the pantry into people’s cars and on its way to their homes.
Each week I opened the pantry when I unlocked the outside door with a key. The locked building also housed a beautiful sanctuary. As volunteers, we were allowed in the portion of the hallway where the pantry and storeroom were located.
Each turn of the key reminded me that a church with no one in it is just a building.
We encountered faith in the pantry outside the church sanctuary on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. With little or no religious doctrine, these weekly encounters were as freeform and varied as a faith can be because the State of New York insisted on secular food pantries. I felt our pantry represented civic religion – belief in things without including God. Everyone going through the pantry had a different doctrine.
It was all okay.
The whole thing reminded me of the birthplace of Lyndon B. Johnson at the memorial built in his honor in Johnson City, Texas. After spending time at the memorial, I realized I visited a deeply religious and spiritual place…but it was civic.
There’s room for civic religious beliefs in the pantry. After all, worship can happen in the most varied placees: inside a jail cell, a cemetery, on Facebook, at a family table, a roadside shrine, a person praying on a rug at high noon in a parking lot somewhere, a mountainside, a stream, a hospital room, a monastery.
All it takes is for someone to be alert to what’s happening.
For me, every shopper and volunteer has meaning and is cherished. Each and every one is of profound value. It doesn’t matter whether or not anyone else sees them as successful or beautiful or useful even. Success, beauty, and usefulness doesn’t impact anyone’s worth. Everyone in the pantry is worthy.
That’s what matters.
Looking back on my time in the food pantry, no one else saw any similarity between Communion and the food pantry.
Church members never noticed the most popular service in that building each week fed the hungry at the food pantry in the basement.
And, I didn’t either in the beginning.
Later, when I recognized the face of God, I got it.
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In the food pantry, forgivenes is as necessary as groceries. Opportunities to experience forgiveness pop up like dandelions on a spring lawn.
And, forgiveness, like those dandelions, finds its own time.
Forgiveness doesn’t undo the damage. It doesn’t mean the person who wronged you is going to become your new best friend.
You’re not going to crawl in bed with that person. You aren’t even going to have to do anything with that person at all.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you win. Nor does it mean you get away with anything.
You don’t forgive someone for them. It’s not about what they did. You forgive a person for your peace of mind and inner calm so a better, more positive lifestyle can emerge.
Forgiveness means moving on with less baggage. The pain heals because forgiveness sets us free. Go forgiveness!
Forgiveness is an intensely personal experience involving your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional body.
When a person forgives somebody, frustration and grudges leave it through the thoracic region of the spine as a rush of hot wind. I sometimes feel this happening during a Reiki healing session.
Miracles and forgiveness go hand in hand. Asking for forgiveness invites a blessing because of the spiritual shift happening.
In the food pantry, a volunteer gives away the food. When you can’t give food away without strings, scorekeeping taints everything.
Food pantry shoppers and volunteers remake their lives when forgiveness erases anger, awful memories, feeling harmed.
“That person lives in Shandaken. He shouldn’t even be here.”
“You’re serving entirely too much food to these people. You can’t do that.”
“You shouldn’t feed fresh produce to these people.”
“You’re serving too many people.”
“You’re serving all the wrong people here.”
“You don’t feed this kind of food to these people. If they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat anything.”
“Are you sure the people in the line really need the food?”
“Those cell phones are expensive. How can they afford the fancy cell phones and still get free food?”
“How can you keep people from cheating?”
When shame, guilt, and disappointment move on, they separated the future from my past. Otherwise, these negative emotions would have defined my future.
The whole thing is a process. The first step prepared me to forgive someone else as well as myself.
After all, I needed to forgive myself.
Forgiveness doesn’t happen the moment a person says “I’m sorry.” Apologies and acceptances don’t create forgiving.
With the forgiveness process, I got to know myself better. Enough time passed so that I acted differently. It’s easier to forgive somebody when you come from a different place.
When this happened, I realized I wasn’t a victim anymore. Right away, I wanted to stay in this new place. So, I moved in here.
I discovered the old normal was gone when I felt lighter.
I wanted to smile more. I was surprised to learn about this place. The old fear of the building committee reduced itself to nothing.
I still knew the risk of losing the pantry was genuine but now I wasn’t a fear victim.
Forgiveness waited until the time was right, just like the dandelions.
I saw him pushing his cart through Mower’s Meadow Flea Market today. Grandpa looks as good as he always did. It was as if the cops never threw him in the slam.
His adorable little black short-haired Chihuahua mix rides on his colorful cart eating stinky cheese bits he gives her whenever Grandpa wants to show her off.
He entertains tourists with his peace sign, his open smile, and his colorful cart. This particular little Chihuahua adds to the picture.
Although Grandpa Woodstock isn’t a scheduled tour bus stop in town, people come from all over to catch a glimpse and take photos of him smiling. His dog, his cart, and his peace sign add even more color to the scene.
Grandpa Woodstock is worth the trip. He’s a master street theater artist. Frankly, they just don’t come better than Grandpa.
Tourists find him to get a picture taken with him and buy an autographed photo from him.
Coffee at Bread Alone, a meal at Maria’s, a necklace at Gwen’s Gems, a find at Mower’s Meadow Flea Market, an ice cream at Taco Juan’s and a Grandpa sighting are on the bucket list of fun things to do in Woodstock. For many, a Grandpa sighting is first on the list.
I’m grateful to see him up close, and I sigh a quiet, hidden sign of relief when he smiles.
These days I look for what I call the forgiveness smile. People have a unique smile when they release small hills or even huge mountains of baggage. Grandpa’s got it. Go Grandpa!
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“I’ve got my whole live organized…finally! I’ve got it down to three boxes.” she explained.
“See my first box: I’ve got five outfits in it. And, one of them is good. There’s even a pair of boots and a bottle of tick spray here.
“My second box is the bathroom box. It’s got soap, toothpaste, deodorant, and a kazillion plastic bags. And, Look, here’s the toilet paper I got out in the hallway a few minutes ago.”
“And, see, this is my third box.”
I saw a soup pot, a 2-quart saucepan for veggies, and cooking the eggs she always picked up in the pantry. I saw canned goods, and I saw something else our pantry rarely offered: paper towels.
Nothing was frivolous. There’s no room for frivolity as one’s life dwindles to three boxes.
Forgiveness is sometimes an internal, hidden experience. Without the forgiveness smile, it’s difficult to impossible to know when a person practices forgiveness.
By default, I sometimes know who didn’t because I see anger and a stuck life in a person’s face.
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“I’m so sorry I’m late today. I promise, promise, promise not to do this again. I was over at the pet store unloading dog food. Christie and Fraidy were entirely out of food, but now I have a big bag of kibble for them!”
“LeAnna,” I replied. “It was nothing. Christie and Fraidy are part of your family.”
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Dr. Catherine Ponder wrote several powerful prayers about forgiveness. .She wrote books about healing, abundance, and forgiveness. You can find her on facebook and her own website.
When I think of grief, Lemon Balm Betty surfaces from my memory banks. She ran around the parking lot outside the food pantry as fast as her feet would carry her, yelling at the top of her lungs “Thurman Greco is a f*** a****!
She carried anguish and anger like twins. When anger bubbled up and yelled and yelled, anguish followed.
“I don’t think she’s ever going to smile again.” I thought to myself whenever I saw her run her circle around the parking lot.
One day she brought an armload of peppermint. I put it out in the pantry for shoppers.
When she saw her donation in the fresh produce section, a smile lit up her whole being. Finally!
In days past, we all looked for security and some of us found it.
But then, things spun out of control and our lives began over in the pantry.
Despair was unavoidable.
Fearful shoppers were uncomfortable and felt hurt in their hearts, clear down to their first chakras.
When we realized how vulnerable and insecure we were, distress happened. .
No one talked about it much, but people working and shopping in a pantry lost a lot: jobs, family, (not to mention the house and everything in it), friends, self-respect, self-love.
They lived an ongoing series of losses.
In the pantry, we all just ducked our heads and pressed on. Hungry people lived with the specter of what if:
What if I hadn’t lost my job?
What if I hadn’t come down with cancer?
What if I hadn’t lost my car?
It was all loss: a lost job, the death of a loved one, a foreclosed home. Loss triggered feelings and it was all incredibly lonely.
Occasionally I saw people crying in the pantry. And, truth be told, I cried in the pantry a few times as well.
Sometimes I cried silently. Once I wailed loud, earth shaking, tears. I was intensely afraid the pantry would shut down. I knew there was no other place to feed the people.
I don’t remember what made me become so emotional that day. The reason I cried escapes me now because why I sobbed wasn’t important.
More important, the pantry was a safe place for us all or no one would have shed a tear. Safety allowed me to let my guard down for just a moment to shed tears I needed to cry.
This I do remember: I cried tears for us all in the building that day as numbness wore off.
Wounds needed tears to heal. Once this happened, we tried to move forward again. Drugs numbed and masked the pain, but there were no pills to heal wounds.
This journey confronted traumas, and finally resolved things lost. A despondent person moved forward never leaving grief behind. The pain and the journey relied on emotional suffering.
Weekly trips to the pantry left us all with unfinished business. It was impossible to lose so much with a clean break.
Travelling to the pantry, our lives were up and down. We carried happy and sad memories with us in the pantry room. Disaster was the new normal.
Tears paved the way for the good luck we experienced after the feelings of sadness and loss diminished.
Sadness had to be experienced.
The journey attracted spine and joint problems, respiratory problems, irritable bowel syndrome, bronchitis, asthma, pulmonary issues.
Our situations needed to be experienced honestly. Denying grief got no one anywhere. I was honest with myself about the sorrow I felt for the pantry.
If I hadn’t been, I would have lost it to those who didn’t approve of me and the hungry people the volunteers fed.
We each faced a challenge: How to figure out who we were at the moment and who we hoped to be in the future.
In the middle of all this, we carved out a place in the new reality we found. Then we could each define who we were in our new surroundings and in the community.
When we wrote our new stories and tried on our new identities, we saw the past, the present, and the future blended together.
The new stories brought depended on newly discovered talents and strengths. A new voice surfaced. I felt it drowned out the negativity. When this happened, we were ready for a new life.
What about a new home, family, pet, job, car? We all had different relationships to repair and rebuild.
Each person working in the pantry or walking through the shopping line felt loss differently.
This was our spiritual work. Some were lucky enough to move on to a different town, a job, a different family.
But nobody walked away from this loss , pain, and grief. So, it was okay when we stayed in town together as we picked up the pieces of our lives.
I recognized this new voice whenever I heard “I won’t be coming again. I got a new job and I’m moving on.”
Things didn’t always make sense because the voice was filled with anxiety, struggles, and disappointments. In the end, it all came down to discovering what worked and what didn’t.
Each of us saw this uniquely.
Rita lived in the Saugerties/Palenville area before Hurricane Irene. That storm cost her everything. One day her life was normal and the next she had nothing.
The most anyone could say about Rita was that she was homeless.
A mutual friend, Lorene, found Rita a worn-out pickup somebody couldn’t sell or even give away.
Until I looked closely at it, I didn’t even know what color it was.
I knew what color the tires were, though: slick and bald.
Rita got the pickup and the key that went with it. She put the key in the ignition and turned it. The motor came to life. It got her to the gas station. Hurrah!
She began her life over by doing anything that anybody needed to have done for $10 an hour and lunch.
She cleaned out flooded houses and sheds. She hauled trash to the dump. She used her computer skills when somebody needed administrative savvy.
Her clothes came from Family of Woodstock.
She rented a room in somebody’s house and was finally not sleeping in the pickup.
Whenever she worked in Woodstock on Wednesdays, she shopped at the pantry.
I’ll say this about Rita. She never grumbled. With a smile on her face, she always acted as if the pantry food was the best she had ever eaten.
And never, not even once, did she complain about the ancient jalopy pickup rig she drove around.
As far as I could tell, she never lost hope. Without hope, I don’t think she would ever have made it to the other side – wherever that was.
I never once asked her how she got the pickup repaired and I never even looked near the inspection sticker. Frankly, I was afraid to ask. I was afraid she would tell me.
Truthfully, Rita was no different from any of the rest of us shopping and volunteering in the pantry.
She had to figure out how much of her past she could rebuild. And she had to figure out how much of her past she was simply going to close the door on as she moved into the future after Hurricane Irene.
Rita gave up much beyond her material possessions. She gave up everything that she felt stood in the way of a successful future. For Rita, quitting was something she couldn’t afford.
She gave up rear vision. Looking into her past simply didn’t happen to Rita. She gave up bitterness and seeing wrongs. This meant she gave a person a second chance, and even a third if they needed it.
She gave up waiting and putting off something beccause the stars and planets weren’t properly aligned. She gave up criticism. This included self as well as others.
Rita was the right person in the right place in the right job to be able to unfold her path in front of her. She carried on each day as if she truly believed it was better than yesterday.
She walked as if blessings were all around her.
Each day, every day, Rita risked whatever was necessary to rebuild her life. Rita embraced the future while renouncing her past. She never quit.
Rita was our poster child. She found meaning each day, even in the worst situations and the most inhumane conditions.
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Because of its spirituality, this article could fit easily in www.reflexologyforthespirit.com. Because of the food pantry setting, here it is in www.hungerisnotadisease.com.
The food pantry community included massage therapists, Reiki practitioners and other healers in the line. At one point, I taught Reiki therapy to volunteers and attuned them to Reiki. Laren was among the students in the volunteer class.
Reiki is health care for the soul. The pantry could definitely use this jewel!
Reiki changes people’s lives and she was no exception. For most Reiki practitioners, the change is slow, subtle, gentle. Some aren’t even aware of anything happening.
I knew Laren’s response to Reiki was exceptional in the first fifteen minutes of the Reiki I class. She took the Reiki 2 class. She took the Reiki 3 class. Several months went by and she took one of my advanced classes.
Well, Laren could have taught that class hands down. Every subject I brought up was one she had experienced. Laren went on to become a Reiki Master Teacher and now attunes her own students.
Laren dropped by the pantry monthly and offered Reiki to the building. I felt the energy shift as she invoked the ChoKuRei, the SeiHeKi, and the HonShaZeShoNen in the pantry room and the hallway.
Laren offered Reiki to the building as people rushed around the hallway, bathroom, and the pantry room, cleaning everything after the pantry closed and before we had to leave the building. No one paid attention to Laren calling in the symbols as she walked around the rooms.
This was energetic healing at work.
She gave particular attention to the corners of the rooms. Reiki energy transformed the pantry into a holy space, erasing the toxic fear of hunger so prevalent in the hallway and the pantry room.
The floors, walls, corners, became holy.
Fear of hunger wasn’t the only issue. Fear of job loss, illness, and fear for the children were common in the pantry. Fear was often palpable.
Reiki therapy is a spiritual wand touching those around us who need blessings and healing.
Reiki practitioners know that when the time is right, Reiki takes on a life of its own, offering healing where it’s needed, using energy which passes through the practitioner’s hands.
Using Reiki, we align ourselves with our divine order to extend blessings.
When I am in the grocery line, or the traffic line, or on a sidewalk, or on a massage table, the space becomes holy when I invite Reiki in.
Reiki heals through chakra points located throughout the body. In a Reiki session, the recipient is reminded who she is. This self-awareness opens the chakra portals for the person to become who she can be.
The future blends with the present and the past at this moment. Possibilities open. This is a miraculous process.
Reiki is a holy ritual. It’s hard to get too much of this divine energy because Reiki is all-loving and all-giving. Reiki wisdom guides the practitioner’s hands during a session to the points of divine connection on the body. Reiki shows us the meaning of life and the teachings understand the sacredness of this process.
Reiki is a jewel not bound by earthly things.
No wonder there are no contraindications to Reiki therapy.
Reiki is a light touch applied to a clothed body. When offering Reiki therapy, I often began a session applying this light touch to the crown of my client’s head.
After three or four minutes, I moved my hands to the occipital ridge at the base of the skull.
There, I placed one hand on the base of the skull and the other hand on the back of the neck. After a few short minutes, I placed my hands on the person’s body, following the lines of the person’s chakras along the spine.
As I placed my hands on the recipient, healing energy traveled up and down the chakras, beginning at the head and ending on the feet. I felt warmth, tingling.
Sometimes I saw images and color while the recipient lay in a sleeplike state on a healing table. Whether or not the word “sleeping” was correct, the person was usually not conscious.
Chakras are the communication system of the body. Chakras share information with one another as they physically, intuitively, energetically, and psychically communicate with one another.
They also talk with chakras in other bodies as well. There is no limit to how chakras communicate.
The pantry visits themselves were healing because the pantry experience healed. When shoppers and volunteers healed from the experience, they saw things in new ways.
When this healing happened, it made the person new.
In this new inner life and outer life, the person moved forward in ways impossible before.
Pantry volunteers served shoppers, volunteers, hungry people.
Distributing groceries all those afternoons in the pantry brought forgiveness and healing.
Fresh vegetables, eggs, and Bread Alone bread offered a healing experience with abundance. As volunteers fed the shoppers, they helped both themselves and each other. Did you want to be healed? Healing and feeding were connected.
The pantry was a safe haven for everyone, both volunteers and shoppers. Healing began and continued as people shared food. This safe haven was necessary because the unspoken word here was the feeling that we were the wrong people.
Unspoken here was the feeling that one’s status in Woodstock could make things right. Without the right status, a person would never be acceptable.
Health issues pointed to a need to cope with spiritual challenges. Healing was on the agenda and getting well was something everyone sought.
In the end, healing was not easy. Before the trip was over and a person felt healed, she experienced many things: acceptance, belief, change, connection, forgiveness, laughter, persistence, and transcendence.
For me, this was amazing. How can a person in a pantry line experience connection? How can a person in a pantry forgive others? The path is simply too rocky.
For some, it was giving up anger, drugs, or a lifestyle that changed when the house was in foreclosure.
Giving and receiving food brought everyone a little peace.
The whole experience was hard for people in the line who were unemployed, broken down psyhologically, economically, socially, spiritually, and physically,
As I watched healing in action, I saw patterns. First came forgiveness which made the healing easier. For sure, healing was harder when a person held a grudge.
The pantry visits themselves were healing. The pantry experience healed. When shoppers and volunteers healed from the experience, they saw things in new ways. This healing, made the person new.
In this new inner life and outer life the person moved forward in ways impossible before.
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“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” – Psalm 63:1
“That person lives in Shandaken. He shouldn’t even be here.”
The pantry served shoppers, volunteers, hungry people. Volunteers fed everyone in the line. No exceptions.
Distributing groceries brought forgiveness and healing. Healing was an after thought of forgiveness.
For me, healing required some commitment and thought. Whether or not this was true, questions always arose:
“Am I ready to be healthy?”
“Can I get well if it’s scary?”
“Can I leave the old me aside if it’s necessary for healing?”
“Why am I going through this?”
“What is the meaning of it all?”
These questions could be painful. Healing can be hard on everyone.
The pantry line had massage therapists, Reiki practitioners, medical intuitives, and other healers.
As a healer, I know healing happens on several levels in our lives: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, mythical. Both healing and getting well were special challenges because many of the people in the hallway, the pantry room, and out in the parking lot didn’t have health care.
While he had his office, Woodstock had Dr. Longmore. After his office closed, things were tough for many. As health care became scarce, everyone became personally involved with the differences between healing and getting well. For some, this was part of the spiritual journey.
Hunger often went beyond a plate of beans or a jar of peanut butter. That’s why food is essential to healing. That’s where homemade soup comes in.
Sharing food in the pantry helped people heal. Fresh vegetables, eggs, and Bread Alone bread offered a healing experience with abundance. As we fed the shoppers, we helped ourselves and each other.
In some cases, the shoppers became the volunteers or the volunteers joined the shoppers. Shoppers came to get food and found they could volunteer. Volunteering changed them. As a person distributed groceries, the volunteer made contact with another person and was able to smile.
Pantry experiences coaxed us out of our own problems. Offering a sense of community gives back so much more.
Do you want to be healed? Healing and feeding are connected.
Sooner or later, we all get sick. Finally, we die.
No one escapes. This truth is harder on hungry people who have no $$$ for health care.
Hungry people are often blamed for their inability to deal with the situation. It’s as if it’s their fault for being down and out in Woodstock. If they lived right, they would be healthier, make more $$$ in their jobs.
If critics stopped and thought about how insufficient nutritious food, improper housing, and inadequate or nonexistent healthcare impacts a person, they might feel differently.
What did it matter that there were no jobs in the area and none of those that came open paid over $8.00 an hour?
Because they were down and out, they must be guilty of something.
They were negative thinkers, lacking faith, and basically lazy. Something.
They were gay, trans, promiscuous, alcoholics. Something.
They were freeloaders, irresponsible, flaky. Something.
Healing and getting well are two different things, acting in different ways. But, whether a person heals, gets well, or both, change happens.
“Do I want to heal?”
“Do I want to be well?”
“What if I come out of this experienced a different person?”
“What if it takes a long time?”
In the midst of this, the pantry offered some normalcy to the shattered lives of hungry people when they took pantry food home to wherever and whatever that was, fixed a meal, and served it to those in the household.
It was supper from the pantry.
Health issues pointed to the spiritual challenges which popped up on the path to the pantry. Healing was on the agenda. We all wanted to get well.
People getting well overcome symptoms. Getting well means doctor’s visits, therapy, pills, creams. These things were simply not an option for pantry shoppers because there was no money.
Symbolic healing occurred in the hallway on pantry days as shoppers and volunteers discussed their diabetes, PTSD, cancer, allergies.
Working and shopping in the pantry was therapy to volunteers and shoppers. These hallway conversations were cheaper than the physical and mental health services they had no money for anyway.
These conversations were essential because talking about a health issue promotes healing. Shared symptoms gave us all support, strength, validity.
Everyone walking through the door to the pantry, whether a shopper or volunteer, was asked to leave the past behind. This experience was different for everyone. But, think about it, how can we move forward into our new lives if we never give anything up.
For some, giving up the past means letting go of things lost: the job, the home, maybe the family, self-esteem, the car, good health, money, insurance, the pet, anger, or drugs.
As the past disappears, the remaining spiritual baggage weighs less and less. Prejudices become fewer. Fears diminish. We heal!
Some things surrendered were physical, some mental, and some emotional. But, one thing is certain, whatever the category, the experiences all had a spiritual aspect.
Giving and receiving food brought everyone a little peace.
Everyone coming to the pantry heals somehow. The pantry community supports and approves hungry individuals as they climb back on the road to wellness and something offering normalcy.
Nobody just wakes up one day and says “I think I’ll go down to the local food pantry and volunteer.” People spending time in pantries all travel down the path. Healing has signposts along the way.
Some needed physical healing. Volunteers occasionally came to the pantry so ill that they were barely able to make it into the building. When this happened, I stationed them at the Items of Dignity table distributing toilet paper, shampoo, razors. They offered one roll of toilet paper and one other item to each shopper.
Each week, Deanna slowly walked the two blocks to the pantry and then worked in the hallway a couple of hours while she gathered enough energy to return home.
“Don’t forget your roll of toilet paper, Judith. We’ve got some hand cream today. Can you use that or would you prefer tooth paste?”
When Deanna finally couldn’t work in the hallway anymore, Rachel gracefully sat at the Items of Dignity table helping shoppers choose their two items. Rachel lived in nearby Mt. Tremper. Her living situation seemed somewhat precarious because every few months she looked for a new place to live. She lived in her car a couple of times.
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After feeding hungry people in Woodstock for over 30 years, volunteers at the Good Neighbor Food pantry were asked to leave the pantry’s space at the Woodstock Reformed Church by June 1, when the pantry will close..
This didn’t happen because there were no hungry people to use the pantry. This pantry has been one of the largest in the area since it expanded in the economic downfall of 2008. Before that time, shoppers were mostly a couple dozen single homeless men and Woodstock colorful characters.
With the economic downfall, patronage escalated from 25 people per week to hundreds. Hungry people filled the halls. The line filed out the door into the parking lot.
Before the economic downfall, people came in and got one or two each of four basic items: cereal, tuna fish, peanut butter, soup. About the time that the crowds began to shop for food, the food bank changed the system to include fresh produce and a three-day-supply of food for every person in the household.
People left the pantry with bags of food: eggs, vegetables, fruit, yogurt, items of dignity.
Church members and townspeople never really accepted these changes.
People resented the changes they didn’t ask for. This was understandable. No one likes change, especially uninvited change.
They liked feeling only a few people in town needed food.
They liked thinking the pantry was “theirs” when it really belonged to the Food Bank. After all, that’s where the food came from. That’s where volunteer training came from. That’s where food and rent grants originated.
With the changes in food served came training classes at the Food Bank. Funds became available to assist pantries with rent, and utilities. At that time, the volunteer coordinator applied for and received a $1,000 rent grant to pay the church annually.
The $1,000 rent grant was new for the Woodstock Reformed Church. No food pantry volunteers had paid rent money to help the membership.
At the time, the intention was to increase the amount annually. $8,000 was a long range goal.
$8,000 was not out of line if the refrigerators and freezers were moved from the unpainted barn in the parking lot to the church basement.
A nationally known fundraising guru, Kim Kline, taught interested nonprofit volunteers how to raise money. She based her success on the premise that givers give. She told everyone in the class exactly what to do.
After this class, pantry volunteers in Woodstock did exactly as she instructed.
These fundraising efforts at the pantry made the Good Neighbor Food Pantry a success story. Secrets of successful fundraising are outlined in detail on pages 196 and 197 of the book “I Don’t Hang Out in Churches Anymore.”
The Good Neighbor Food Pantry need not close. There is time to raise the money needed. There are probably still volunteers in this pantry who remember these skills taught by Kim Kline.
There is still time to feed the many hungry people who need this food. The need is greater now than it has ever been.
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Thank you for your interest in feeding hungry people. Our need is greater now than ever before.
Woodstock, New York
We live in a country today in which people struggle for food. While hunger reaches historic levels, some are unaware of the plight of their neighbors. Others are not concerned. Food insecurity doesn’t seem relevant. Even pandemic hunger cannot convince everyone.
One child in seven lives in poverty. The family regularly chooses between food and gas, food and medicine, food and rent.
Adults often work more than one job. Until, with the pandemic, many people’s incomes disappear.
Retirees find themselves too old to work, have more month than money, and try to hide their situation from children and grandchildren.
Our elected leaders have not chosen to address this situation with even a fair minimum wage.
Beginning in 2007, I fed hungry people in one food pantry for several years and then started another food pantry in a nearby community needing one.
In 2013, I began to write about hunger. My experiences and lessons learned filled books and a blog.
In 2018, I began a consciousness-raising practice on weekends at the Mower’s Meadow Flea Market in Woodstock, New York.
Time spent feeding the hungry taught me this:
There is no excuse for anyone in our great nation to go hungry.
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And, finally, don’t forget to tell them about our key hat!
Meet our new fashion model! Mikayla is wearing our latest creation: a knit cap with a key embroidered on the cuff.
A symbol of homelessness, this hat tells our story BEAUTIFULLY. Hopefully you’ll enjoy wearing it as much as others do. It’s only $15. Please go to www.thurmangreco.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to order your very own key hat!
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People needing to use a food pantry because they don’t have enough $$$, certainly don’t have resources for things like toothpaste, shampoo, razors, tampons, and other Items of Dignity.
There is something we can do about this little-known situation:
Hold an Items of Dignity drive. Actually, this is easier than a food drive because everyone seems to know what an item of dignity is.
People know what food is too, but some get confused about what is a good food item for a pantry. What about fresh produce? Is frozen food okay? are often asked questions during a food drive.
Items of Dignity don’t get stale. They don’t need refrigeration.
Actually, you hold an Items of Dignity drive the same way you hold a food drive: Gather your bags together, write your letter, and put them out in front of houses in the neighborhood you choose.
For more information about holding a food drive, please check out the last two posts. They reveal all the secrets.
When you donate these items to your chosen food pantry, the volunteers will be delighted.
If you are worried about having an Items of Dignity drive because the people may not need the items, don’t bother to worry. Right now, in our country, hunger reaches into all communities. Hunger is affecting people who never thought they would ever need food.
The items you collect and donate will be greatly appreciated.
Thank you in advance for all you are doing.
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P.S. Please let me know how your food drive is going.
Congratulations! You had a food drive!
Your work isn’t done yet. Now is a good time to think about your next food drive. It will be easier and more fun than the last one because you know more about your tasks!
When you organize for the next food drive, you’ll get to see how your last one worked.
Celebrate your goal. Did you have anyone helping you?
This is a good time to go out for a pizza or ice cream. Enjoy what you did and discuss how you helped your community as well as yourselves!
Pat yourself on your back.
A few weeks after your food drive, check in with the food pantry or other group who received all your collections.
Were the foods you collected useful?
Were you able to get enough of one item for the group to have a surplus?
What foods would have been appreciated which were not collected?
How can you improve your future food drives?
Now is a good time to plan your next food drive!
design a fact sheet that lists some foods that are needed. (The agency you
donated the food to may already have one you can use).
Write and send out a press release about your food drive and plans for the next one.
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Woodstock, New York
It’s easier than you think.
Choose the food pantry, homeless shelter, school, church, food bank, or soup kitchen to receive the food you collect.
Contact your recipient, and learn what items the hungry people need. Try to be specific. Can they only accept canned food items or can they use frozen and fresh foods? What about pet food?
If they need pet food or food for homeless people, for example, request those items (with specific food item suggestions) at your drive.
Decide how you want to collect the donated food.
The method I prefer is, of course, the one that worked for me several times. I recommend this method:
Gather some large empty grocery bags in good condition.
Attach a letter to each one saying something like:
“We are having a food drive in this neighborhood. Please fill this bag with food and set it out on your entryway on ………………………….. when it will be picked up between 00:00 and 00:00. Include am and pm to be more specific.
We need the following kinds of food:……………………..
Your donated food will be donated to ……………………………… Thank you for your generosity. If you have any questions, please call…………………………………. Signed…………………………………….”
Set the bags out at every address in the area you selected.
On the appointed date, return to the addresses and pick up the bags of food.
Deliver them to the selected food pantry, homeless shelter, school.
Pat yourself on your back. You did a great job!
My experience with this food drive method is that people respond positively because you give them bags, tell them exactly what food items you need, and return to pick up the food at a specific time on an exact date.
Thank you in advance for all you are doing to feed your neighbors.
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Have a wonderful day!