My mom and I struggled when I was a kid. She was a single parent. She was trying to support us while going through dental school so she could provide us a solid future. She was making the best choices she could and sometimes there was struggle due to financial difficulties.
I don't know all the details of our finances- I was raised that money is the concern of adults and kids shouldn't have to be concerned with or shouldn't be privvy to the financial situation of the adults. Of course, kids easily pick up on the financial situation.
My friends wore new clothes. I wore homemade clothes or hand me downs. My friends had pantries and cabinets and fridges filled with food- our food supply didn't compare. My friends lived in houses with backyards and fences and dogs. I lived in an apartment- just me and my mom. We struggled and we had a church family that helped us out from time to time.
As an adult, I am sometimes amazed at how much my life has been blessed. I am in a place where I have security for my family and can help others. I can pay forward what was given to us.
Last week, I learned that the food pantry that I donate to was struggling. In the past 3 weeks, they had served over 100 families each week. This pantry, The Come to Me Food Pantry of Fishers United Methodist Church, is open once a week (Wednesdays from 1:00 - 7:00) to serve families. On an initial visit, there is some paperwork to fill out and the family meets with an advocate volunteer who talks to them about their situation, their food needs, their food likes and dislikes, and offers to pray with them. The pantry's goal is to supply 3 meals, snacks, and personal items to last for the week ahead. They give both dry goods and also meat, bread, and other perishables.
I put out a call to my friends on Facebook. 3 women came up right away as wanting to donate food. I met up with one of the 3 yesterday afternoon. We had lunch and then loaded up my car with the donations she had collected. I was amazed at the amount of food they were donating! Cases of vegetables, bags and bags of food. The back end of my van was stacked and loaded- and weighted down. And that was the donations of only 3 women (I added my own 4 bags of food as well so it was from 4 women). I took the donation to the pantry this morning. After unloading everything into the dumbwaiter (which we filled), got a tour of the pantry and how it works.
And I was moved to tears.
There are wooden shelves built to hold the cans of food. There are 4 chest freezers and 3 or 4 fridges. The pantry gets donations from Frito Lay, Marsh (grocery store), and Panera Bread (and other companies, I'm sure). There is a freezer for hot dogs and buns, a freezer for hamburger. There is a special shelf set aside with food items for families with special dietary needs- I saw the labels "Gluten Free" and "Muslim" and "Organic." They've served Jewish families, single parent families, Muslim families, and more. Here's what I loved best of all: planned meals. Instead of just giving cans and boxes of food, the volunteers take donations and put together little meals with instructions on how to make it. 2 boxes of mac n cheese with cans of tuna. Chicken flavored rice with cans of chicken. A box of mashed potatoes, a can of peas, a can of corn, hamburger from the freezer, and instructions on making shepherd's pie.
This inspired me. I want to specifically collect donations and make these meal kits. For my local peeps, I'd love to work on collecting up donations from you for this effort. For far away peeps, if you feel so moved (and trust me enough) to participate, e-mail me (see tab above) and we can make arrangements. I'm going to be getting a list of the meal kits they make and what's needed for each one. One of the other kits they make that I just love are the birthday bags- a gift bag with a small wrapped gift inside, decorations, cake mix, icing, and so on. Something I'm going to do with my kids this Halloween is to ask each home we visit to donate a canned or boxed item for the food pantry. My friends and I did this in college and we collected a lot of food. I'm going to borrow a wagon to collect the food in and am eager to see how we do. Maybe you can do the same in your neighborhood and donate to your local pantry?
I think the thing I like about this small pantry in my neighborhood is that it is a pantry that is helping the families that are struggling to make ends meet. This isn't one of the big pantries that have lots of corporate sponsorships and are helping families in more dire straits in the inner city. The bigger pantries tend to get more attention, I think. This is a small pantry and is run only by volunteers from this church. The gentleman that helped me unload my van and who gave me the tour shared a story with me. One Wednesday night, a woman sat in her car outside the food pantry. A few times, she got out of the car and walked towards the doors but would then turn around and get back in the car. She finally found the courage to go inside and she met with a wonderful advocate. She had lost her job a month ago and was starting to really struggle and couldn't feed her family. She prayed with the advocate and took her food and personal items and left. She didn't come back the next week or the week after. About 3 months later, she walked back in the doors. The same advocate happened to be working that evening again and rushed up to her, hugged her, and started talking about getting her food. The woman stopped her. She wasn't there to get food. She was there because she had found a job soon after taking food from the pantry those months ago. Her life had changed because of the help she received. She was there because she had bags of groceries in her car that she wanted to donate. She paid it back and, in so doing, paid it forward at the same time.
I'm going to keep paying it forward, too.