Feeding the hungry during the holidays and beyond at your local food pantry

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Just some of the choices at my deli station in our local food pantry.

Monday is my favorite day of the week. After a typical morning, I get ready to go to town. My Monday routine consists of some shopping and a meal at a chain restaurant. Then I am off to our local food pantry to help distribute food to people who have not been as fortunate as I have been. I try to arrive by 4:30. We start distributing food about 5:30.

I serve as the deli man at the pantry which means that I distribute a number of perishable, processed items. Earlier this week, each client was able to choose one protein snack pack, a packaged salad, a processed meat such as Italian sausage or bacon, Velveeta cheese dogs, a large bag of frozen cherries or blueberries, and three 30-ounce bottles of pineapple-mango juice containing probiotics. All of these items are typically sold fresh/chilled, but many of those I hand out have been frozen to slow spoilage. The types of choices and amount distributed varies from week to week. Last week selections included the dips, soup and risotto bowls pictured in this post. Sometimes I have fresh eggs to give away which is the second most popular deli item. Bacon is first. All too often I find some of the eggs broken in the cartons (averaging one-to-two per dozen). Before we start, I open every carton, remove the broken ones, and frequently transfer intact eggs to clean cartons brought in by our volunteers.

Each client registers to ensure us that they are on our list. Eligibility for distribution is determined periodically based on family income and proof of residence in the area we cover. Each family is eligible to pick up food once every two weeks. Typically we distribute food to about 50-80 families each Monday evening. Family representatives can also come in the morning which serves between 80 and 120 each week. After registration the client is accompanied by a volunteer who pushes one of those small supermarket carts down the four aisles of the pantry.

We have yet to find a satisfactory name for the volunteers who accompany our clients one cart at a time. Pusher is the most common term, but alternatives such as escorts, navigators and personal shoppers have also been tried. The first aisle contains meat (usually pork and/or beef) and deli. Canned meats and tomato products greet the family representative at the end of the aisle. Next come bottled juices, canned fruits and vegetables, powdered or canned milk and breakfast cereals. Clients are met at the end of that aisle by someone distributing products from the USDA—usually about four canned items. The third set of shelves contains sides such as rice, oatmeal or grits; sweet snacks; salty snacks; peanut butter and jelly. Before making the final turn, there are soups and noodles on display. Then come the breads including sliced white loaves, baguettes, English muffins, and bagels followed by some baked dessert products. As they leave the facility our visitors select from a variety of fresh produce before the pusher takes the cart to the family vehicle.

The pantry is located in the back of a local church and is equipped with a walk-in refrigerator and a walk-in freezer. Volunteers, many of whom are of retirement age, generally come from one of the many churches in the area. We come together to provide service to the community and to enjoy each other in a social setting. All are friendly and willing to work hard or they don’t last long. Our clients include working people some of whom come to the pantry straight from work in their company or government uniforms. Many of the families are very appreciative of the food provided. A few have difficulty making choices and slow the operation down. The pushers try to keep up an even flow so the experience won’t be too long for those at the end of the line.

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More choices in the deli.

Although some our food is fresh or was fresh before it was frozen, most of the products distributed are nonperishable. Many perishable products will not last the two weeks before their next visit. I volunteered at a distribution point in another state where we distributed food once every month. It is for this reason that most of our items must be processed or frozen to provide enough food to last between visits. Our help is not the only food a family will depend on. Rather, our assistance is designed to supplement other ways they have of feeding their entire family. Many of the processed products, such as those shown in the photos are organic, but few of the items are local. I did note that this week we were distributing bell peppers from in state, but many fresh items come from other states. A few weeks ago we had some beautiful eggs, almost all were intact, that had been shipped in from a distant state.

As we celebrate this holiday season, I encourage you to consider contributing to a food pantry near you by donating nonperishable food products, contributing money to the cause or volunteering to serve in distributing food. Too many members of our society find it difficult to feed their families on their income. They need help not only in December but throughout the year.

May your holiday season be joyous!

Next week: Types of sugars in processed food

2 thoughts on “Feeding the hungry during the holidays and beyond at your local food pantry

  1. Excellent point. We do have some gluten-free options and products to meet other dietary needs, but our supply is sporadic. Even if we have an item on a specific night, it may not be readily available at the time a client is standing in front of me. I try to remember specific needs of regular clients, but I am not always able to meet their needs.

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  2. Very important at this time of year. This reminded me that I meant to drop off some gluten-free items to my local food pantry. I have heard this is getting to be an issue that gluten-free options are often not available. I have a gluten sensitivity, but make plenty of money, so I cannot imagine having a child or being a person who needs the more-expensive gluten-free option.

    Liked by 1 person

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