August 7, 2019
Once a month, member Sue Loeser spends an afternoon volunteering in First Presbyterian Church’s Loaves and Fishes pantry. Here is one of her experiences from last spring.
Empathy was on my mind in April when I helped Jane (not her real name) as she shopped for her family of six. Jane was my dream client because she liked to cook and was searching for healthy options. We were offering several fresh vegetables that day, and Jane used her points to “buy” everything fresh.
Jane was especially excited about an extra-large bag of salad greens she chose, exclaiming, “My daughters love salad…they will be thrilled!”
Just then, another client entered the vegetable aisle, engaged in a discussion with a volunteer about what that client might like. He spied Jane’s bag of salad greens, pointed to it and said, “I’d like one of those!”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I told this second client. “We had just two bags of salad greens and that’s the last one.”
That would have been the end of it, except beside me Jane smiled and said to the young man, “If you give me a bag, I’ll give you half!”
If you give me a bag, I’ll give you half. You have no idea how often I’ve wondered if I would share my family’s desperately-needed food—food I couldn’t replace—with another person in need. I can’t say for sure I would.
The people who come to a pantry are screened by the Loaves and Fishes organization. Their need is documented, their visits to a pantry are limited, and they have a referral for our FPC pantry that specific day. No walk-ins are allowed. The system is well-organized. As a volunteer, I help clients select items from different food groups, using their family size to determine how many points (i.e. currency) they have in each food group.
As we shop together, I talk to my clients about food, and sometimes they move on to stories about their life and family. What I hear is often heartbreaking. While we bag their selections, it’s not uncommon for a client to weep with relief and gratitude on seeing all they have to take home to their family.
Yet, in spite of their need, a client like Jane is not rare. I often hear clients say, “I have enough (vegetables, fruit, etc.) so I won’t take any more.” It would be easy to assume they refuse the items because they can’t carry more cans on the bus, or they don’t have storage at home. But almost always the client adds, “Leave it for the next person.”
I started volunteering at Loaves and Fishes because I wanted another service opportunity, and I thought the distribution team’s camaraderie would be fun. (And it is!) What I didn’t expect was an education in sacrificial generosity.