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
“Lemon Balm Betty is out in the parking lot again.”
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 as she yelled at the top of her lungs “Thurman Greco is a f..king a..hole!”
“I don’t think she’s ever going to smile again.”
Her anger morphed into a smile one day when she brought in an armload of herbs. I put them out in the pantry for shoppers. Shen she saw this, a smile lit up her whole being.
Grief was unavoidable in the pantry. Grief and fear are best friends. Fearful people are uncomfortable and feel hurt in their hearts, clear down to their first chakras.
Grief happens when we realize how vulnerable we are, how insecure we are.
In our past, we sought security. Some of us found it.
But, then, things spun out of control and our lives began again – in the pantry.
Pantry shoppers and volunteers live with grief. No one talks about it but people working and shopping in a pantry lost a lot: love, jobs, family (not to mention the house and everything in it), friends, self-respect, self-love. Grief is an ongoing series of losses. In the pantry, we all just duck our heads and press on.
Hungry people live 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’s all loss. It’s all change, whether a lost job, the death of a loved one, a lost home.
Loss triggers grief. And, it’s all incredibly lonely.
I occasionally 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 cried 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 the exact circumstances which made me so emotional that day. The reason I cried escapes me now because why I cried wasn’t important. More important, the pantry is a safe place for us all or no one would have shed a tear. This safety allowed me to let my guard down for just a moment to cry the tears I needed to cry.
This I do remember: I cried tears for us all in the building that day as numbness wore off. This was grief at work.
Tears are necessary to heal wounds. There were drugs to numb and mask the pain but there were no pills to heal. So…I cried because there were no grief pills at the Village Apothecary.
Grief is a journey confronting, enduring, and resolving loss. A grieving person moves forward never leaving grief behind. The pain, emotional suffering, were a necessary part of the process. We grieved over things lost: people, jobs, hopes, dreams, belief in self, fun.
The trip to the pantry left us all with unfinished business. It was impossible to lose so much and have it go as a clean break. No loss was perfect. While we traveled to the pantry, our lives were full of ups and downs, good and bad moments. We carried both happy and sad memories inside the pantry room. Grief was the new normal. But grief, with all its tears, paved the way for something positive which we experienced when sadness and loss diminished.
Grief attracted spine and joint problems, respiratory problems, irritable bowel syndrome, bronchitis, asthma, pulmonary issues.
Grief needed to be experienced with depth and honesty. Denying grief got no one anywhere. I was honest with myself about the grief I felt for the pantry. If I hadn’t been, I would have lost the pantry to those who didn’t approve of me and the hungry people I fed.
Grief and anger were never far apart. Anger was always there, just below the surface until it yelled.
In the pantry, each of us were trying to figure out who we were at the moment and who we would be in the future. In the middle of the grief, we explored a new reality we found while we each defined who we were in our new surroundings and community.
We tried on new careers and identities in our new lives. As this happened, we saw the past, the present, and the future all at once. This experience allowed us to see newly discovered talents, strengths, gifts.
In this experience, we created new voices. We found courage to overcome fears.
I recognized this new voice whenever I heard “I won’t be coming again. I got a new job and I’m moving on.” When I heard this new voice, I also heard anxiety, struggle, disappointments, and courage. The person was discovering what was going to work and what wouldn’t.
Rita lived in the Saugerties/Palenville area before Hurricane Irene. That storm cost her everything. One day her life was normal and the next day she had nothing. The most anyone could say about Rita was that she was homeless.
A friend we both knew, Lorene, found Rita a worn out pickup somebody couldn’t sell or even give away.
Until I looked closely at it, I didn’t know what color it was. I knew what color the tires were, though: slick and bald.
So, anyway, Rita got the pickup and the key that went with it. She put the key in the ignition, turned it. The motor came to life. It had enough gas to get her to the gas station. Hurrah!
She began her life over by doing anything that anybody needed to have done for $10.00 an hour and lunch. She cleaned out flooded houses and sheds. She hauled trash to the dump. She used her computer skills when she found anybody who needed administrative work done. Her clothes came from Family of Woodstock. She found a room in someone’s house and was finally not sleeping in the pickup.
Whenever she worked over in Woodstock on Wednesday, she took time out to shop at the pantry.
And, I will say this about Rita.
She never once grumbled. She always had 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.
For my part, 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.
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 the past she was simply going to close the door on as she moved into the future after Hurricane Irene. Rita obviously gave up much beyond her material possessions.
She gave up everything she felt stood in the way of her successful future. Quitting was something she couldn’t afford.
She gave up rear vision. Looking back into her past simply didn’t happen to Rita. She gave up bitterness and seeing wrongs. This means she gave a person a second chance, and even a third when they needed it.
She gave up waiting and putting off something because the stars and planets weren’t properly aligned. She gave up criticism. This included herself as well as others.
Rita was the right person in the right place in the right job 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 and all she had to do was open her eyes a little wider.
Each day, every day, she did whatever was necessary to build her life. Rita embraced the future and renounced her past.
She never quit.
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