When we were little, food had so much impact on us kids, as I’m sure it did for many.
I remember my youngest sister forced to sit alone at the table after all of us were gone, because she couldn’t gag down the liver and onions. She couldn’t leave the table until her plate was empty.
I remember if you spilled milk into your plate on accident, you still had to eat the soggy food.
I know all of this came from the generation my parents grew up in and that my mom came from little. I know also it came from having to feed five kids on a limited budget. Nothing could be wasted or thrown out. I have so much respect for mom, there at home, three meals a day. Her canning, the 50-pound burlap bags of red potatoes and lentils.
I remember commodity day. I swear it was dad’s favorite day of the week because in the commodity box would be a huge block of REAL BUTTER.
When my parents retired, they volunteered at a local food bank. Every Friday they came home with boxes and mom would radiate relief. Cans on the shelves, meat in the freezer. It was like commodities day all over again. Mom told me once she volunteered at the food bank because volunteers got first choice. I also wonder if she volunteered because it allowed her to feel like she was earning the food she brought home.
She also came home with stories. People had to sign up, provide identification, and provide proof of their low income status. Mom would tell stories of people who were humiliated. Or people coming through that drove fancy cars or wore nice clothes and how she felt they were lying. That they were taking food from those who really needed it.
Fast forward to a few months ago when I was talking to a neighbor about a local food bank. She said I should pick things up because they had such a surplus. I told her we didn’t need to do that. She said it had nothing to do with income levels; that question wasn’t even asked. She told me they received funding on a point system and the more people that came, the more points they got. Points allowed them to continue providing for the community. She said it helped them out if people came.
Recently I had a day off when her food bank was open. I thought I would go, be counted so they got some points, and do my part to help her out. I figured I would pick up one or two things to look like I was legitimate. In other words, I’d fake it so they could count my household and help others.
When I got there, there were rows and rows of food. One family was leaving with a cart piled high. One woman was going through a huge case of tomatoes, picking out a box full and talking about canning sauce. Other than that it was just the volunteers.
They were so excited to see me. I signed up, politely followed their directions, and picked up a loaf of homemade sourdough bread. A volunteer pushed a cart over to me. Another said ‘oh, you have to take some of this!’ Another said ‘come back to the freezer and get some meat!’ A third put a box of donuts on the cart, along with spinach and squash and…more and more.
I kept telling them ‘no thank you’. I finally confessed that I didn’t need anything, I’d just come to get counted so they could get points.
They then told me they had so much left over at the end of the day that they fed local pigs and chickens and horses.
I came home with a few boxes and lots of guilt. Some of the things were well past their prime, like corn that was tough and woody, and spinach that was slimy. But those things were in boxes that had been pre-made by someone and sealed. The things the volunteers pressed on me were fine. Mom and dad would have been thrilled.
In one way, a part of me was thrilled, too. Free food! I can stock up the pantry even more! Canned soups and rice and beans and flour and…it was like grocery shopping without having to pay for anything.
And in another way, I was extremely uncomfortable and guilt-ridden. I still am, today, which is why I’m writing about it. I’m not sure I’ll go back. I’m going to make donations, though.