Friday, April 23, 2021

With gratitude for food banks and the volunteers who make them possible / "Hineni"


(Drawings of food bank items by Shayna Rudoren)

From this article:

“I get here and the room is empty,” he said to explain why he named the pantry Manna, “and then by 10:30, there’s food in it. And then by 1 o’clock there’s not.” At the end of every day, he continued, “I’ve got nothing left — I’ve got nothing emotionally, I’ve got nothing physically, I’ve got nothing spiritually — I’m done. And somehow in the morning, there’s something there. To me that’s divine.”

Mike is a different story.

“I’m an agnostic,” he told me. Between confirmation in ninth grade and his 60th birthday, Mike said, “I was in a church probably a dozen times.” But his wife is a spiritual person, and when they were living in the Bronx, they got involved in St. Paul’s Lutheran Evangelical Church in the Parkchester neighborhood. Mike helped run the food pantry there, too, before they moved to Bloomfield, N.J., in 2019, and connected with Park United. 

“For me, it’s not religious,” he said. “I really don’t give a whole lot of thought to a Supreme Being. Maybe I should but I don’t. What the church has done for me is it’s provided me with good work to do.”

That’s hineni.



During the second half of 2019 and until our local food bank closed due to the pandemic, I stood in line there once a week because I was going into credit card debt for the first time in my life in order to buy groceries.  Not serious debt but something I needed to address before it did become a problem.  

Our local food bank was set up like a grocery store.  We would stand in line, be checked in at a counter by volunteers, and then would get a grocery cart which we would fill with all the food we could put in the boxes we brought for that purpose.  The boxes were supplied by the food bank.  We were encouraged to take a box and use it each time we visited.  Because of the generosity of local stores and local farmers and the many people who support the food bank, I had an excellent selection of fresh produce, rice, beans, oatmeal, and nut butters to choose from.  There were also milk and other dairy products, eggs, bread and rolls, tortillas, meat, canned and baked goods, which for one reason or another, I can't eat but are basics for so many people.

There were people of all ages who came to the food bank up to two times a week.  I heard people speaking Spanish and Russian or Ukrainian.  Several of the volunteers had name tags that indicated that they spoke Spanish.  My guess is that there was probably a volunteer who spoke Russian or Ukrainian.

With the pandemic, the food bank building was closed but the volunteers continued to come to the building to fill boxes of food that people could pick up outside the building from their cars or on foot.  Volunteers (many of them friends of mine) stepped forward to deliver boxes of food to people without cars or people who had any other reason that might keep them from being able to have access to food.   Because I have to be careful about what I eat, I was fairly sure that I wouldn't be able to eat much of what went in the boxes.  A friend who did deliveries offered to bring me a box as an experiment.  There was nothing in the box that I could eat.

Fortunately, since the beginning of the pandemic, the U.S. government has been giving those of us who quality for EBT cards nearly twice as much food credit.  With that help and the three stimulus checks, I am no longer going into debt.  I've adjusted my spending down and am sure that I will have enough to live on even when the EBT amount drops back down to what it was before the pandemic.

If I did not own my condominium outright, I could not live on as little money as I live on.  Before I retired, I called our local senior information center, told them what my low-end Social Security income would be and asked if it would be possible for me to live on that amount of money in our county.  I was assured that I could if I lived simply and made use of the many safety nets for low income people.  

I am considered "poor," but I don't feel "poor."  I deeply aware of how fortunate I am to have everything I need and want.  My life is rich and full.  I couldn't be more grateful.

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