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.
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
I got excited!
A letter from the Capital City Rescue Mission sent me a thank you note! Just 2 weeks ago, they sent me an appeal letter, complete with return envelope.
And, today, I got a letter from Covenant House.
So what, you say.
Well, so that. That’s what!
When I managed the local food pantry here in Woodstock, I sent out appeal letters every year to a few thousand people. I never, ever, saw an appeal letter from another food pantry or soup kitchen or halfway house.
My letters weren’t nearly so nice as the ones I got from the Capital City Rescue Mission or Covenant House.
The pantry appeal letters were hand addressed, printed on a copy machine and hand folded.
Our return address on the envelopes appeared compliments of a volunteer hand-stamping each one individually. A volunteer got the return address stamp at the Catskill Art and Office for less than $25.
Our mailers went out each year reeking of poverty. No professional letterhead. No nice paper. They were just an appeal from a group of people who needed to keep going from day-to-day.
But, they worked. Those letters and the follow-up thank-you notes brought in enough money to meet our needs. We always had enough for gas and sandwiches for the staff on the monthly food pantry stocking day.
When Guy dented the fender in his car in our parking lot, we had the money for repairs.
When we showed up in the food pantry one day to distribute food, there were no working lights in the basement of the church.
I never quite figured out what happened. But this I do know: Richard Spool arrived in just a few minutes and dealt with the problem. We had enough $$$ to get all the parts we needed at Houst.
And, this I do know: The hungry people were fed, the lights were fixed, Richard saved the day, and the account still had a few dollars left.
But, now, back to the story.
Well, today I did. The appeal mailer came in about 2 weeks ago and I quickly sent a check and a copy of my book (for encouragement).
Today I got a thank-you with another self-addressed envelope from the Capital City Rescue Mission. (I think I’ll send another copy of my book for them to share. ) I’m going to send along another check. I’m anxious to see how this plays out.
Meanwhile, if you are a food pantry, soup kitchen, halfway house and need money, you can learn all my secrets starting on page 196 of my book, “I Don’t Hang Out in Churches Anymore”. I held nothing back. If you read this information, you’ll have the recipe for fundraising success.
In my heart, I want every pantry, soup kitchen, and halfway house to be rich enough to feed everyone who needs the food. I want the food to be top quality – the best.
And, I want every pantry to have enough $$$ to fix the cars and trucks and the lights in the building.
I learned these secrets at Rowe in Vermont when Kim Kline gave her annual talk.
If you feel you can’t take my word for all this success, get Kim Kline’s books and read them. Or, better yet, attend one of her weekends (when the pandemic is over).
Remember, in our country, there is no excuse for anyone to go hungry.
If you’re reading this post and you don’t work for a pantry or soup kitchen, you don’t have to wait for a mailer. All you have to do is contact a food pantry and make a donation.
You don’t have to send a check. If you want, you can hold a food drive and then haul over all the food you gathered. The important thing is that there are many ways to support those who feed the hungry.
And, lately, there are more and more hungry people than we ever thought possible. Your help and support will be appreciated.
Thank you for your generosity and thank you for reading this article.
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Miracles happened in the food pantry. It took me a while to realize this and then it took another while to accept that such a thing could happen in the basement of a small town church in Upstate New York.
I sneaked miracle stories in on the blog posts. I sneaked them on the pages of “I Don’t Hang Out in Churches Anymore”. Finally, I gave them their own pages – as much as I had the nerve for anyway, in a short book “Miracles”.
Research on miracles taught me some things.
I learned that miracles often include weeping statues, broken legs healing straight, relics, stigmata, and visions. The pantry miracles included none of those things.
Our miracles never really cured anyone. I never saw a statue weep, and no one came down with stigmata.
Instead, they showed us all how to grow and love and forgive. It was giving away the food that was the tip off for me.
As far as I can tell, the food pantry miracles were not the result of prayer.
God just showed up and brought food. Once he came disguised as a fireman. Each miracle was a complete surprise, a unique and different event. God came when the pantry shelves were bare and the lines were long.
I don’t think the miracles proved that any of the shoppers or volunteers were more faithful than anybody else in town. Frankly, I think that some of us saw the miracles as coincidences or something.
However they were seen, these events made an impact on a small number of people who saw them as they happened.
The clincher for me occurred when I finally realized and accepted a few basic things:
Carloads of food never showed up when we didn’t need it.
Boots never appeared on the shelves disguised as toothpaste in the summertime.
Nobody ever brought a handful of nails to fix the barn when the wall wasn’t falling.
Two books appeared on my desk out of the ethers: “Miracles” by Tim Stafford and “Looking for a Miracle” by Joe Nickell gave a feeling of legitimacy to my thoughts and memories.
Because of Tim Stafford, I wrote my book entitled “Miracles”. He was direct about a few things – one of them being that people should not spread “miracle gossip”. Because of his feelings about what he called “miracle gossip”, I’m compelled to relate the pantry miracle stories.
To sneak them in blog posts does not do them justice.
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Well, actually, it isn’t necessarily what. It’s more likely who. The first line of leadership inspiration is the hungry people in the food pantry line. A food pantry really is all about the people grappling with hunger.
But, where did this whole thing actually begin? For me, it all started with Robert F. Kennedy. In 1967, he traveled to Mississippi to see poverty and hunger for what it was. Being a wealthy man from a wealthy family, he actually had no idea.
Down there he saw hunger and poverty for what it was, not what he thought it should be. He saw people, elderly people, adults, children. He saw people with no jobs, no welfare, no surplus commodities, and no food stamps.
If the history books tell this story correctly, it was the children who got to him. He saw the hunger as it was. Seeing children hungry to the point of near starvation, Robert F. Kennedy came face-to-face with malnutrition.
Robert F. Kennedy was both moved and angry.
There is a book out there telling the story of their hunger. You may or may not ever have heard about this book. “So Rich, So Poor” was written by Peter Edelman.
In reading about Robert F. Kennedy, I read a paragraph which has meaning for me:
“All of us, from the wealthiest to the young children that I have seen in this country, in this year, bloated by starvation – we all share one precious possession, and that is the name American.
“It is not easy to know what that means.
“But in part to be an American means to have been an outcast and a stranger, to have come to the exiles’ country, and to know that he who denies the outcast and stranger still amongst us, he also denies America.”
Those words resonate with me. They may mean nothing to you. But, whether or not they have meaning for you, they are powerful words and they tell a story I see in the food pantry line.
I thank you for reading this blog post. I thank you for your interest in fighting hunger. I know that distributing food in a food pantry is not going to do away with hunger.
But, this I do know: Distributing food in a food pantry will keep the shoppers in that line from starvation for three days.
This is all I can do. This has to be enough until a better option comes along.
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Your vacation time is here! It’s your last chance to get a break this summer. That means it’s time to go to the beach – to the mountains – to the city – ANYWHERE!
What do you have to do to get away? Well, first, find a place to go. Second, pack your bags.
FINALLY, drop off loads of food to your neighborhood food pantry before you take off on your vacation..
August is the most challenging month of the year for food pantries because it’s the month with the least amount of food available at the food bank. Food pantries get most of their food from donations and very few people donate in August. And, sadly, this carries right through to September. September brings school openings with parents getting ready for school lunches. Food pantries are often empty.
It’s my opinion that people don’t donate food to food pantries in August because they’re focused on their own activities: vacation, getting kids ready for school.
But, your neighborhood food pantry doesn’t have to be empty. There are things you can do. You can organize a food drive in your neighborhood and take the food to the food pantry. You can keep the food flowing right through to October.
Thank you in advance for thinking of things you can do for your food pantry during the leanest months of the year.
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“Ketchup Sandwich Chronicles” is about the spiritual journeys of pantry shoppers and volunteers experiencing hunger and incredible change as they traveled toward renewal and reclaimed lives. This story is, as yet, unknown to many people because hunger as it exists in food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, is still a taboo subject in our country.
Events and conversations in this book took place over a period of several years when I coordinated the Good Neighbor Food Pantry in Woodstock, New York.
Whenever possible/practical I reviewed material with people who helped reconstruct events, chronology, and dialogue. Based on these reviews and my own notes, some of these incidents were compressed, consolidated or reordered to accommodate memories of everyone consulted. This memoir was edited and rearranged over many drafts in an effort to be as accurate as possible.
All dialogue is based on my memory and the notes I took. The names of most of the characters (mainly, the shoppers) were changed. The names of some were omitted. Even so, there are no composite characters in this memoir.
If you read a sentence, page, paragraph or even a chapter that you feel is outrageous or untrue, it is nonetheless very real. Everything written in this book actually happened. It’s my story.
Peace and food for all.
Woodstock, New York
Thank you for reading this article. And, thank you in advance for reading this new book. I’ll be sharing it with you in the coming months. I hope you enjoy it. Please share it with your favorite social media network.
In the spirit of the holiday, I want to thank each of you for supporting my work and following the story of hungry people in America. This has been a busy year for me and, without your support, none of this year would have been possible. However you found my blog and the story of hungry people, whatever keeps you returning, I thank you.
This blog has existed since February, 2014. This year has been one of few posts.
Why? Well, “I Don’t Hang Out in Churches Anymore” finally published and I spend time now marketing and selling the book instead of writing and posting articles. Thank you for standing beside the hunger message this year. I pledge more and better articles in the coming year.
I discovered the Mower’s Meadow Flea Market in Woodstock, New York, where I had a booth on weekends for the summer and autumn. This is the perfect place for a book. People buy the book and return to the market to share their enthusiasm for the story. Thank you to everyone who has purchased a copy. I plan to return to this delightful place when it opens in May.
Each new reader and follower learns something from the story about hunger in America and each new reader inspires and motivates me to find new ways to share this hidden story. Thank you.
A second volume is on the way. I’m hopeful that “The Ketchup Sandwich Chronicles” will join “I Don’t Hang Out in Churches Anymore” on the book table at the flea market in 2019. There’s certainly room for another book about hunger in America. Thank you.
Thank you for reading the blog and the books. When you read them, we both learn more about hunger, a subject important to us all because there just shouldn’t be any hungry people in our country.
Woodstock, New York
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DONATE FOOD TO A FOOD PANTRY
When you purchase groceries, buy a few extra jars or cans of food and take them to your neighborhood food pantry.
Peanut butter is my favorite choice. It’s shelf stable so needs no refrigeration. That makes it good for homeless people. It doesn’t spoil quickly so it can be used by a household with one or ten people. It doesn’t require a lot of chewing so it’s good for a person with no teeth. In short, peanut butter is a perfect food choice for a food pantry.
However, if you would rather choose another item, go with whatever you want to give. Whatever you choose, it will be selected by someone shopping in the pantry.
CLEAN OUT YOUR KITCHEN CABINETS
Give the unused items to your local food pantry.
HOST A FOOD DRIVE
Invite your friends and neighbors to help you collect food for your local food pantry.
DONATE CLEAN EGG CARTONS AND REUSABLE SHOPPING BAGS TO YOUR FOOD PANTRY.
Food pantries are always in need of shopping bags and egg cartons. Eggs coming to a food pantry usually come in cases – without the cartons.
Shopping bags are not usually found on food pantry shopping lists.
CLEAN OUT THAT CLOSET!
Take your gently used clothing and bedding to a pantry or soup kitchen for distribution. I recently learned that the clothing item most needed in shelters is socks.
I also learned that women’s shelters are always in need of bras.
In the Albany, New York, area, you can send gently used or new women’s bras to:
YWCA – Greater Capitol Region
21 First Street
Troy, New York 12180
CELEBRATE YOUR BIRTHDAY.
Invite people to a party and ask them to give donations to a food pantry instead of a gift.
GIVE A LITTLE THROUGHOUT THE YEAR.
Make a regular donation to a food pantry. This translates to sending a check or gas card every month or quarter.
CONTACT ELECTED OFFICIALS AND PERSONS OF INFLUENCE.
Motivate them to make ending hunger and homelessness a priority. Encourage them to support fair wages and benefits for workers.
READ A BOOK.
“Take This Bread” by Sara Miles, “Under the Overpass” by Mike Yankoski, “I am Your Neighbor” by David R. Brown and Roger Wright, and “I Don’t Hang Out in Churches Anymore” by Thurman Greco are four books which tell revealing stories about hungry people in America.
START A SCHOOL BACKPACK PROGRAM.
Backpack programs send food home on Friday afternoons to households where children would not otherwise eat over the weekend without the donated foods.
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There’s only one more weekend left at Mower’s Meadow Flea Market this year. I’ll be there the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving and then that’ll be it for awhile. I understand the flea market doesn’t open weekends again until May.
Don’t quote me on that. I’m not sure. But, one thing I’m sure about: I plan to be there every weekend next season. The hunger book, the donation jar, and I plan to be at Mower’s Meadow Flea Market next season.
I was at a different spot at the flea market every weekend. And, I really enjoyed being there. The people at the other booths were friendly, open, and interested in my booth. I got many tips and tried them all. It was obvious to everyone that I really didn’t know much about flea market marketing. I still don’t know much but my booth presentation has definitely improved.
Thank you to each and every one who bought copies of “I Don’t Hang Out in Churches Anymore”. I doubt if “The Ketchup Sandwich Chronicles” will be available by then but I working on it every day.
The title “I Don’t Hang Out in Churches Anymore” was named by Cullen Thomas and it was well chosen. Many people who picked up the book on the table were bothered by the title because they didn’t understand it. However, it definitely attracted attention.
For those with questions, the title referred to an “unhoused” congregation serving people outside the sanctuary. And, the food pantry was definitely outside the boundary of the sanctuary. The food pantry was, in fact, in the basement.
This story isn’t about how to fix or save or change a church. Nor is it, really, a story about a church at all. In fact, it’s not a manual about anything. It’s a story about how I discovered hungry people in the basement of the building in a tiny food pantry in the corner room.
A memoir, this story tells the truth as I remember it.
If you haven’t had a chance to read this book, it’ll be available at thurmangreco.com during the winter unless I find an indoor weekend flea market that’s appropriate for a table of books and open on the weekend.
My goal is to offer Reiki therapy and tarot readings in addition to the books at the flea market in the future.
But, whether I offer Reiki and tarot or not, I plan to be at a table selling both “I Don’t Hang Out in Churches Anymore” and “Healer’s Handbook”. When “Ketchup Sandwich Chronicles” comes out, I’ll add it to the stack!
See you there!
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