Winter 2009: behind the scenes

The Food Pantry runs on volunteers

The Food Pantry runs on volunteers

In November 2009, The Food Pantry celebrated our ninth anniversary at St. Gregory’s with cake, singing, and a blessing in English, Spanish, and Chinese. And we honored our volunteers who gave extraordinary amounts of time, creativity and thought in a period of great transition.

Since the beginning of the year, our numbers have been going up at The Food Pantry, with lines stretching around blocks. The people who come to us are often newly unemployed, or facing cutbacks at their jobs. Others are struggling to stay in their houses or rental apartments, and some families have lost their homes. We know there are more people out there who need food, and we want to be able to reach them.

This fall The Food Pantry grappled with how to continue serving the growing numbers of people, as many as 900 a week, coming for groceries. The influx was stretching our budget––in August we spent over $1000 each week on food–– and our capacity to handle the crowds in the space. During a month of discussions with our board and volunteers, we developed a plan so that we could continue to serve people fairly and with dignity.

We’ve registered 1200 people, assigning them alternate weeks to come to The Food Pantry. This means that each individual can only get groceries every other week, and, for the first time in nine years, we can’t accept any new visitors.

To make this work required new systems – a special spreadsheet to keep track of visitors, a rolling schedule so that nobody had to wait in line, and flyers in several languages. Mostly, it required personal communication with the people we serve, to explain and answer questions and reassure the families who’ve come to depend on us.

Volunteer Winston Wu was key to this effort. Winston worked at the pantry every week for nearly a year while he was unemployed, greeting and managing the line of pantry visitors out front, using his impressive language skills in five different Chinese dialects. Winston wrote us to announce his “leave of absence” with regrets.

“I have accepted an assignment at a little company called Google,” he wrote. “Serving at the Food Pantry has taught me teamwork, integrity and strong respect for people. Most of all, it taught me compassion, humbleness and to serve with a thankful heart. The sum of all the experience has helped transform me as a person. People say big fellows don’t shed tears, but I have to admit I shed a few tears the past several nights thinking just how much I will miss all of you, and thinking what life will be like minus all the hysteria I encounter every Friday. Thank you for your confidence in me, and for making my first volunteer experience something I will always remember.”

One Response to “Winter 2009: behind the scenes”

  1. Darlene Hansen Says:

    I am the director of a food pantry north of Spokane, WA. I have followed your food bank experiences for about 6 month now. I am so proud of all of you! You obviously have a heart of service and compassion to be willing to rethink the best way to serve your ‘customers’ (as we call ours’) and then to follow through. You are willing to do what is necessary and have committed volunteers willing to help make the latest situation work. Wonderful! I, too, have great volunteers (I am a volunteer also!) that are willing to go the extra mile for those less fortunate…..at the same time, several of us are right on the edge of needing help ourselves. These tough times are coming down on all of us and that’s the reason we can relate to the stories and situations. Keep up the good work! I know you are being blessed (only the blessed stay with us for any time) and I know that blessing will continue. May God richly bless you all for your work!
    Darlene Hansen, Director
    North County Food Pantry
    PO Box 388
    Elk, WA 99009

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