by Nina Douglass, South Bay Food Pantry Volunteer
A very active and committed South Bay Food Pantry volunteer was surprised to be asked recently how much she is paid for her pantry work. All who work at the pantry are volunteers! No one receives monetary compensation for their hours of work, nor reimbursement for the use of their vehicle or gas expenses for trips to retrieve food (though reimbursement for such expenses would be provided to anyone who requested it.)
The precious compensation we volunteers do receive is in the form of smiles, words of gratitude, gentle teasing, homemade food gifts, and trust. (One client declares he will love me forever, but I have reason to suspect I am not his “one and only.”) Trust comes to us from some pantry clients in the form of choosing to share personal details of their lives. To be trusted in this way is powerfully gratifying. The accounts we hear reveal the extent of the additional challenges people facing food insecurity must manage. Such confidences also reflect the positive impact for clients of our caring for them.
Despite my years as a trauma-focused clinical social worker, some stories clients have shared have left me temporarily without words. One regular pantry visitor abruptly stopped coming last fall. I worried about her during her absence, as while she appears healthy, she is a single mother of a special needs child and has a chronic medical condition. Two weeks ago, the woman was finally back. She explained that she’d been hospitalized with Covid at Thanksgiving for thirty days. During the subsequent six months she’d been too weak to come for food. Part of the problem was that she couldn’t afford the supplemental oxygen she needs. We arranged for her to receive future home deliveries of food when she isn’t well enough to leave the house, and referred her to 211 for help resolving the oxygen need.
Many other pantry clients also struggle with major medical and psychosocial conditions. The pantry guest who brings us delicious food most weeks didn’t look well as she stood in line last Saturday. She then mentioned that she is being treated for cancer. Another regular client, a grandmother who often arrives with her young granddaughter, spoke of the sudden death of her partner just weeks before. An unsheltered man in line who didn’t look well responded to concern by explaining that he was recovering from being stabbed the week before. Many other clients are seniors, who balance heavily-laden boxes of food on their walkers as they make their way through the distribution line. Some must then board public transportation to return to their apartments.
Much as pantry volunteers are inspired by the resilience of our guests, we also enjoy upbeat camaraderie, challenging physical work and the supportive on-site participation of ministerial staff including Rev. Omega, Rev. Suzelle, Rev. Denise, and Rev. Kathleen McTeague. There is much to look forward to in future service to the community!
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