Last Saturday, I spent the morning volunteering at a local food bank with a group of friends and a whole lot of other people — Girl Scouts, a boys’ club, even a group from the Navy base. The volunteer coordinator started us out with a little video describing what the food bank does, and told us what we’d be doing. “Watch out for flying frozen chickens,” he said, and we all laughed. What a kidder. And then we spread out and got to work.
We all gathered around several lines of steel tables in a chilly warehouse. A staff member drove a forklift back and forth to the giant freezer, bringing out big containers of packaged frozen meat donated by supermarkets and distributors. One team of volunteers sorted the packages into bins – beef, poultry, pork, and mixed – and others took the bins to the lines. There we checked the packages, covered the bar codes with “Not for Resale” stickers, and filled cardboard boxes with enough packages to make about 20 pounds. (That’s what I did.) Other volunteers weighed the boxes and taped them shut. And then others stacked the boxes on skids, which the forklift driver took back to the giant freezer. Simple and straightforward – and once we got rolling, fast and furious!
The energetic Scouts upstream from me slapped on stickers and sailed those rock-hard packages of frozen poultry across the table at me almost faster than I could sling them into the boxes. Yep, flying frozen chickens. And we hadn’t believed . . .
When our shift was done, we wiped the tables and bins with antiseptic and picked up our litter. The volunteer coordinator told us we’d packed nearly 500 boxes of food – 10,000 pounds! Five tons! — and we all gave ourselves a big round of applause. We were all so pleased — for a few hours we’d been part of the solution! There were two more shifts of volunteers coming in later that day. The food bank might have 1500 boxes of food – 30,000 pounds, 15 tons — ready to go to the food pantries by the time they closed the doors that night. (The food bank reports that they distributed more than 35 million pounds — 17,500 tons — of food last year.)
On the way home, I thought of where all those boxes would go next. They would be shipped to a distribution center in the suburbs. Food pantries, homeless shelters, after-school programs, and similar organizations would place their orders, and our boxes would be delivered to them.
The food pantries and other organizations would get the food to the people who needed it. And then I thought about the people who needed it.
The number of people served by the food bank has more than doubled over the past five years. The food bank served more than half a million different people last year. Half of those people are children.
It’s clear that the food bank and others like it are meeting an urgent need, and I’m grateful that dedicated people like the board and staff members of the food banks are hard at work every day, and that we volunteers can chip in and help them in their good work.
But how can it be that there are so many hungry people right here, right now? Can you imagine a world where the food banks are all closed for lack of demand? Where every parent can give their children enough nutritious food? What can we do to bring that world about?