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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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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A food pantry is what it is because of three things:
the economic situation at the moment
the people who shop there.
The people come together looking for groceries but often, they want and need far more.
While the coronavirus pandemic rages, the food pantry lines get longer every pantry day because people, families, deal with change they didn’t ask for.
In short, they are rewriting their destiny stories without a road map or instructions.
A number of the people in the pantry, both shoppers and volunteers, didn’t know about food pantries until circumstances set up a situation where they suddenly looked around a room and realized where they were.
There is a name for their category – SITUATIONAL POOR.
A person fits into the situational poor category when s/he lands in a situation created by an event such as a hurricane, fire, floor, pandemic, or other disaster which destroys the home, car, job.
Pantries offer much – peace, community, spiritual connection, groceries. I always think of a food pantry in the basement of a church as a cross between a church service and a busy pizza place.
A food pantry, and those connected with it, are not a program. They are a community. As volunteers, all we really do is open the door. As all the hungry people walk through the door, they undergo a change somehow.
Each person in a pantry, in whatever capacity, has experienced rejection in some way – too young, too old, too crazy, too sick, too poor, not poor enough.
The food pantry experience does not heal a person, nor does it change the story.
The food pantry experience does not offer therapy.
The food pantry is, instead, a conduit for each person’s own healing.
FOOD PANTRY RULES
Sign your name in the register as you enter the pantry.
Find a place in line.
Do not crowd or block the door to the pantry room.
No more than 2 shoppers are allowed in the pantry at one time.
No more than one new shopper is allowed in the pantry at one time.
Shop for a three-day supply of food for everyone in your household.
Place your selections on the table as you shop.
Respect the restrictions on certain foods.
Finish your shopping in 10 minutes.
Once you begin to bag your groceries, do not continue to shop.
Because the food availability is different each time you shop, it is best to visit the food pantry weekly.
P.S. The rules may be different at the pantry where you shop. Each food pantry is different. The space is different. The times the pantry is open is different. The management is different.
These specific rules were used in the food pantry I managed where the people were many, the space small, and the hours few.
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