I feel pride and sadness whenever I attend a Harry Chapin Food Bank mobile pantry. It warms my soul to see volunteers and HCFB staff provide the bags of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat that stave off hunger for another few days or a few weeks, but an ominous chill upsets that warmth. Hunger looms so largely in the lives of those the food bank serves. I feel the sorrow of these families, seniors and children who need help with something so basic: food.
They put aside their pride and fear of asking for help and wait in line in the summer’s repressive heat or the winter’s biting cold hours before distributions begin. That’s how much the food means to them. That’s how bare their cupboards are and how severe the hunger of their family is.
I felt this mixture of pride and sadness even more intensely this past Saturday as the food bank marked the distribution of its 100 millionth pound of food at St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Bonita Springs.
(Monica Monahan, HCFB's grant coordinator in pink)
It was quite a milestone, said Jo Anna Bradshaw, one of the food bank’s longtime board members, as she watched families line the church’s parking lot under swollen gray clouds that threatened them with a torrent of rain.
Mothers and their children, grandparents, and middle-aged couples walked through the line, appreciative of what they received: fresh sweet corn, freckled pinto beans and enough chicken for a hearty Sunday dinner. Bread overjoyed one little girl who clapped her tiny hands with excitement when Monica Monahan, HCFB's grant coordinator, gave her a sliced loaf.
(Jorge, age 4)
“Sopita,” said 4-year-old Jorge in Spanish, plucking a can of soup from his mother’s shopping bag like a toy tucked in a Christmas stocking.
Jorge came to the mobile pantry with his mom, Alida, and two sisters, Alejandra, 3, and Allison, 1.
A single mother, Alida is her children’s sole lifeline. Wages from her job stocking shelves at a clothing store barely cover the rent and child care, she explained. Looking into an empty refrigerator, knowing that you can’t feed your children, is overwhelming.
(Alida and family)
This food, she said, was a godsend because her family would have enough to eat for the next few days, maybe the next few weeks.
“As long as my children have something to eat,” Alida said, “that’s plenty for me.” She wiped her tears, thanked me and carried the bags of food to a friend’s waiting mini-van, her children in tow.
I was saddened that life's circumstances had brought Alida such despair, but I was proud that the food bank, its volunteers and its supporters were there to sustain her and her children with bags of food for the next few days, maybe the next few weeks.