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!