January 29, 2014 by multiracialsky
That photo with the rotting banana in the cardboard box? That’s all the produce at the foodshelf by noon yesterday. It’s the end of the month, when money runs tight. January is especially hard because families often spent a little extra for the holidays, and all the Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives are long over. There is greater need. And there is less food.
Our local foodshelf—the only one in the county open five days a week—serves an average of 300 households everyday, more than half with 3+ family members and most households including children. They are feeding 1000 people a day in our tiny city; that’s 2-3% of our city’s population. Some days, it’s twice as many.
Spending time at the foodshelf is one of most yo-yo activities I do regularly. By the end of my time there, my thoughts and emotions are all over the place. I serve the parents of my children’s friends and set up playdates across the counter. I also have to remind people to only take one loaf of bread—since that’s all we have for the entire day—and watch with frustration as they stuff five or six loaves into a backpack when they think no one is looking. Then there is the question of need. Maybe they really ‘need’ all that bread? Who am I to say?
We serve a population that includes many people with mental health challenges, and often you have to walk away after a single mild reminder. There is nothing we can actually do to keep someone from taking all the cookies, even when that means there will be none left for the other families. The ‘sweets’ shelf is often empty. No one chooses to leave without something sugary. Clients request that we ‘look in the back’ to see if there are paper products, baby formula, diapers, or pet food. We rarely have any.
People coming into the foodshelf for food are at turns chatty, silent, scared, proud, sneaky, ashamed, worried, desperate, accommodating, confused, friendly, and angry. As are we all.
*More photos from the foodshelf here.*