How Do Food Banks Work? My Family’s Story
A young boy walks through two sets of office-standard double doors into a fluorescent-lit, slightly dingy room.
He’s with his mother and his two younger sisters. Mom is pleading with them under her breath, hissing at them to stop fighting and creating a ruckus. He’s 10 years old, his sisters are five and six, and mom is tired.
She motions for them to go sit on the church pews as she walks over to the table to the right to join a couple of people already waiting in line for the food bank. After a short wait, she hears someone call out her name.
Using a Food Bank: One Family’s Experience
Paperwork ensues. A food bank employee collects information about the mother’s income, family size, living situation, and more.
The employee looks like she doesn’t really enjoy what she’s doing. At least, that’s what it seems like to the 10-year-old boy watching from a distance, left to deal with his little sisters. The two girls are still acting out, like they always are.
After a few minutes, their mom comes out looking slightly happier, like a little weight was just lifted off her shoulders.
They all walk down the hallway towards the back of the building.
They approach a door that has a small opening with a counter behind it — an experience not unlike that of walking up to an ice cream truck. There are three or four cheery people standing inside, obviously volunteers, who are packing various food items into repurposed plastic Kroger and Walmart bags.
Picking Up the Food
Most items are nonperishables — generic cereal, powdered milk, cans of tuna and government commodity canned pork. But there are a few items peppered in there that are a little more recognizable to the children. Six cupcakes donated by a local grocery store, presumably to give them (and their mom, for that matter) a moment of happiness in the midst of what others perceive to be an underprivileged life.
All the bags and boxes are loaded into a Little Tikes wagon. You know the one — red plastic with removable sides. You probably played with one as a child. But this one has been repurposed for what could be seen as either a positive or a somber purpose. The volunteers open the door, and mom motions for the boy to take the wagon handle from the brunette. Mom gives the woman a grateful hug and catches up with her kids as they walk out of the door.
Mom opens the back door of the early ’90s Buick, and the girls pile in and buckle up, still bickering. The boy assists his mother in putting the groceries into the trunk, then takes the wagon back inside to the kind volunteers. As the boy walks away, one of the volunteers calls out to him, “Take care of your mom.”
Final Thoughts: Our Food Bank Story
The boy is me. The place is Paducah Cooperative Ministry. The organization, located in my hometown, has helped my family in times of need more times than I care to count. In this instance, it was food for the family. But they also help get people into homeless shelters and eventually permanent housing, and provide emergency heating assistance to those in need.
This is my story — a true story. What’s yours?