A Food Pantry Reflection

A Food Pantry Reflection

Written on 05/20/2022

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As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.


I am trying to write a year-end report about the food pantry, but words fail me. I want to start with a story, but they all slip away, appearing as only a moment. Should I tell you about the man who I had a conversation with once, so now I know he is Jorge from Cuba and we greet each other by name? Or about Wilmer from the Dominican Republic? Or should I tell you about Mimi, or Linda, or Ana? Should I tell you about the people who asked for more of the oatmeal we gave them last week because it seemed to them it made their sick uncle better? What about the son who's been volunteering with us for over a year, whose mom and sister joined us too? The sister’s joy and energy? What about the children who asked to come to volunteer on their day off from school? Maybe I could tell you about the special gifts of the children, high school students, people with disabilities, seniors, and neighbors who saw a need and wanted to help? 

I could tell you the numbers—how many people came this week, this month, this year. How much food we gave away. I could tell you how many volunteers help each week, how many hours it takes. Or I could tell you how much it cost and where the money came from. I could list the organizations that are working together to make this possible. I could tell you that the number of people coming is going up again. These facts, though concrete, suddenly seem dry and lifeless. I could mention the bread guy who from time to time drops off two pallets of bread. Or I could tell you about the 40 hams and 150 dozen eggs that we received as a donation this month. All good, all impressive, but not the story. 

I find myself sitting at my desk, my eyes closed. I see the people—volunteers, participants, outreach workers. I sense the mix of anticipation and energy of a Monday evening packing bags of food. I hear the voices of volunteers—making new connections, reconnecting with friends they don’t see as often anymore. I hear bags rustle and cans tumble from flats and into boxes on the assembly line as an empty flat hits the floor, and a box cutter zips through the tape as someone flattens the boxes for the dumpster. The door opens, and one after another neighbor drops off bags and boxes of donations of fresh produce, frozen vegetables, fresh bread, and canned goods. These are familiar people—they come most weeks.

I feel the quiet of the night as I prepare to lock up the building, pausing to glance into the quiet, dark sanctuary filled with food packed for the next day. I know in the early morning hours the next shift of volunteers will be here, students packing bags of groceries, neighbors packing bags of produce, and this place will be alive again—but for now we rest.

I think of the joy I feel when I walk up to the church on Tuesday afternoons, the grounds already buzzing with volunteers, the parking lot filled with cars. People cheerfully greet each other, glad to be together again. They introduce themselves, share a bit about their lives. They fall to their work, busying themselves with moving bags of food, setting up an assembly line for packing even more groceries, pulling a rumbling pallet jack around the sidewalk to move produce into place. Cars sit in lines, the drivers patiently waiting for food to take home to their parents, spouses, children, neighbors. Some smile and wave, and I walk through the lot. Others get out and help set up for the distribution.

I sit at my desk, my eyes closed. I feel the sun on me as I stand, my glasses fogging in the cold with my mask in a circle of volunteers on the church sidewalk. I look around at the faces, and I am awash with humility and gratitude. Each person there has set aside their other activities and responsibilities to stand in this circle today. The weather is dry, and we are thankful. Yet again, God’s presence is manifest in this place. We go over the distribution plan for the day, and we pray. We give thanks for the weather, the food, the volunteers, and each family that is coming to the pantry that day. We pray for the food to be a source of hope and encouragement for them. We know it is important work that we do, we know it makes a difference to these families, but we know that many will be back. The food will be gone again, and their situation will be little different than before. And yet we gather, and we work together, and we give, and we trust. 

God can do more with this than we can see.

I sit still in a kind of contentment and awe, unable to find words that feel like they can really tell the story. Words that don’t feel like they have been said already. Words that aren’t empty. Words that are adequate. Words that can describe how God’s kingdom is here and God’s will is being done on earth. We are each inadequate to the task that God has given us, but as I sit with my eyes closed at my desk, I see many people coming together—some of Christian faith, some of Jewish faith, some of no faith or unclear faith. I see a glimpse of God's desire for this world, and I am flooded with gratitude and joy. But it is only a glimpse because the backdrop is devastating. In God’s kingdom, there is no hunger. No one works without food. There are no lines of people waiting for their daily bread. 

I sit with my eyes closed, thinking of the quiet of the church grounds after we are done for the week. The bags of food are gone for now, the leftover food stacked up and counted. The dumpster is stuffed with empty boxes, empty pallets stacked beside it. Behind the scenes, volunteers will start preparing for the next distribution. The cycle starts again; the work is not done. But today’s work is done, and it is good. 

I sit and realize that my reflections have slipped from trying to write a report on the food pantry to a prayer. My longing for the day when no one is hungry, when our work does not bring exhaustion, when illness is no more, and injustice is banished is gently wrapped in my inmost hope in God’s faithfulness. My heart is broken and healed. 

And I pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

Hallowed by your name.

Your kingdom come, your will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,

Lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For yours is the kingdom,

And the power,

And the glory forever.

Amen.