Thursday, March 26, 2009

Foodie Friday - Cleaning The Fridge, Stocking A Pantry, And Giving Thanks

Sometimes, I need to be reminded to clean the fridge. Occasionally, the reminder comes in the form of a cucumber that rolled to the back of the crisper and is approaching a liquefied state. Other times, it's a bottle of something that expired a few months ago. This week, I was nudged into the chore when I made a cake for book club that needed to be refrigerated. I opened the door to the stainless steel monster, and every shelf was cluttered with odds and ends. What a nuisance! This week was busy enough without one more thing to do, but I had no choice and started to pull things off the shelves.

I can only assume, that Jupiter must have aligned with Mars or some such thing, because when I looked at the mishmash of ingredients on the counter, plans for dinner materialized. Five left over flour tortillas, half of a large onion, most of a red bell pepper, salsa, red and green taco sauce, a small piece of cheddar cheese, a chunk of colby-jack, and a handful of 'almost' fresh cilantro could make fajitas! I get upset when food gets wasted, so this job was accomplishing more than I had anticipated. After adding a chicken cutlet from the freezer, chopped garlic and a shot of liquid smoke, dinner was on the table in just over an hour...

and it was delicious. The ingredients that were on the cusp of their expiration date were used. The cake was in the fridge. All was right in my 'foodie' world, and I took a minute to give thanks, because there are people who don't have enough to eat, and would never complain about cleaning a stocked fridge, let alone having to find room for a cake. Those are the people that we serve at the food pantry at our church every week, and I consider it a privilege to be a part of this effort.
Last Spring, I approached our Pastor about starting a food pantry at our parish, and was surprised to learn that a young family man from our community had already brought up the possibility. The Pastor put us together, and introduced us to a non-profit organization that was already in existence in our county. We visited an established pantry in a neighboring town, and the wonderful couple who lead it became an invaluable resource. They patiently took us through their systems for paperwork and food handling, and gave us the knowledge we needed to get underway. Without them, we'd probably still be floundering. The planning, scrounging and work began in earnest last fall.

The basement in our Parish Center had just been cleared out and painted, and we claimed the largest room. Heavy old tables were stored in another room. No one wanted them, but they were perfect for our application, so we hauled them in to our space. We needed more tables and a parishioner was able to get us a few from his employer. We went begging for pallets to keep food elevated off of the concrete, and a local landscaper and a home improvement center donated them. When the pallets needed to be cut to size to fit under the tables, a friend who is a carpenter by trade obliged. We would have been helpless without his tools and expertise.

While our friend is cutting more pallets, the co-leader of our pantry is vacuuming up the sawdust.
The pantry was shaping up quickly now, so we put out a call for volunteers. We needed people to screen clients to make sure they meet eligibility requirements. We also needed men with trucks to assist with food pickup and delivery, and people to pack bags and manage stock. I should explain that all of the food that stocks our pantry is non-perishable. Most of it is purchased in bulk with money that comes to our parent organization from a state grant that's administered by the United Way. Additional funds that are used to purchase food come from corporate and private donations. We also receive food from food drives that are run by various organizations such as the Boy Scouts, school classes, and the Postal Service. Just recently we found that we were low on canned fruit and sent out an appeal to the people who attend the two churches that combine to make up our Parish. We covered our shortage until our next pickup was ready.

Below is a picture of our pantry shortly after we opened last December. Bags are being prepacked so they're ready when clients arrive. The pantry director works with a nutritionist who creates packing lists so that each bag contains the right assortment of food to create balanced meals. Sometimes when food runs low we need to substitute items, while still maintaining the proper balance. It can get a little tricky.

This past week our pantry had more stock, because a Boy Scout troop had just completed a community food drive. Sometimes it's scary how quickly food moves through this room.
Food from drives needs to be sorted, and expiration dates have to be carefully checked. We can't use canned milk from 2004, or undated packets of oatmeal that are taken from the box!

Below are two volunteers who are ready to check in existing clients or screen new applicants. Our pantry is designed to serve the most needy in our community, and it is necessary to carefully qualify each family or individual who comes to us.
Working on the food pantry has been quite an experience. It's certainly not glamorous, and at times it's frustrating to have to do paper work, make out schedules or do something concerning fundraising, but most often it's very rewarding and it's always pretty darn humbling.
For more food related adventures, pop over to Designs by Gollum. Our hostess for Foodie Friday, Michael Lee, has Mr. Linky ready to take you on a culinary cruise of blogland!

12 comments:

  1. Hi Nancy Jane...this was a fabulous post today...I used to work at our church's food pantry & it is heart warming to see people who need help being served; however, we would get some scammers from time to time too... I think I'd better go clean my fridge now & see if I can come up with a delicious dish like you did...Yum! ;-) Bo

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  2. Great post. I love that your pantry is up and running with lots of helpers adding their talents. The casserole looks wonderful. I love using up the last of this and that from the fridge.

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  3. Wonderful about the pantry, Nancy Jane!!

    Your meal looks delish!!

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  4. Your meal looks yummy.

    I'm sure your food pantry will bless many, not only with nourishing food, but also the hand of God which will touch each recipient through you and your helpers. God bless.

    amy@maisonbelle

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  5. I commend you for all of your efforts to get a project of that magnitude up and running, I applaud you! It's scary to fathom the thought of all of the need that is around us and more that is yet to come....I know that I am trying very hard to not be so wasteful with my own groceries at this time. Your dish looks so appetizing, I hope that I can muster up something this good. ~ Robyn

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  6. GM Nancy jane what a wonderful post today girl..I use to work at our food pantry with my church and it was just a Priceless time in my life...I had an old U-haul tuck that I donated so we could use it for pick ups...and all our locals stores also gave us food... bread, milk, eggs and such...just wonderful what you are doing...WAY to go girl...Golf claps all the way around...hugs and smiles Gl♥ria

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  7. I enjoyed this post tremendously. What a blessing the pantry will be.
    Bandwith was just telling me that the fridge has gotten dangerous-looking. :-) I do dread cleaning it. A wise lady once told me to clean one shelf at a time, so I may try that.

    Your dish looks mouthwatering!

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  8. Happy Foodie Friday! Have a great weekend ~ Susan

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  9. I've helped at food pantries and with homeless programs, and what you are doing is wonderful. Unfortunately I think that it will be needed more and more in the months to come.

    Loved your use-it-up dinner, too. (Worst thing to find in the veggie crisper--- a fresh lemon that has long ago lost its claim to freshness. For something that smells so wonderful, lemons smell awful when they go round the bend!)

    Best... Cass

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  10. Glad you made a great meal out of things that would have been tossed. We waste so much food here in the US.
    I work in the food pantry too.

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  11. Hats off to you, Nancy Jane. This proves what a good idea and some hard work can accomplish.

    Some of the things that work their way to the back of the fridge can be scary.

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  12. God bless you honey and all your friends that are helping.As you more than know people are hurting so much now.We so desperately need you and a million more of you.Thank you so much...Ann

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