By Isabella Furth, Pantry Volunteer
Did you know that the parking lot at the Chula Vista campus/food pantry is in fact a five-dimensional shape-stacking Tetris alley that defies the laws of time and space? It’s a modestly sized strip-mall parking lot, with a single entrance/exit and maybe 75 parking spots total. During our Saturday distributions about a dozen of those spaces are blocked off to allow room for deliveries and our lineup and registration areas. Another handful are reserved for customers at Carmen’s beauty salon and Alfredo’s deli, our wonderful and supportive neighbors.
Which leaves us a total of 60 parking spaces to accommodate several hundred families and volunteers, most of whom arrive in cars.
It sounds like a recipe for gridlock, chaos, and frustration. And yet somehow it all works. It’s the Loaves and Fishes—where Jesus managed to parlay five loaves of bread and two fish into lunch for 5,000 people—in a Chula Vista parking lot.
Our weekly miracle rests on a foundation of good planning, good management, and good will, plus a little 5th-dimensional shape-stacking wizardry. (Deirdre is REALLY GOOD at Tetris, y’all!)
First the planning. Clients arriving at the pantry on Saturday morning receive a numbered ticket indicating their place in line and then can leave to take care of other errands—these tickets are color-coded (green tickets come back at 11, blue tickets at 11:30, pink tickets at 12…) to stagger arrival times and make best use of the limited space.
Add to that some gentle-yet-firm guidance. Property manager Leo helps direct the flow of traffic when things get busy. Volunteer Rebecca is cheerful and unpretentious in her usual life—but when she puts on her neon safety vest she lays down the LAW, and even the most recalcitrant block slips meekly into its assigned spot.
And most beautiful of all, there is people’s care for each other. Clients can collect as many as four shares at a time, making it easy for them to pick up groceries on behalf of other folks on the list. Many clients make use of this convenience to save on time and gas, and a lot of them have set up informal groups, trading who makes the pickup each week. This past week two friends arrived in the same car: one of them picked up shares for herself, her sister, her in-laws, and a friend; the other picked up shares for herself, her parents, and a neighbor. Seven families served by one vehicle! A miracle!
Even with all our efforts, though, sometimes the falling blocks pile up faster than we can clear them. All it takes is one late delivery truck trying to share the space with an incoming throng of pantry clients and an outgoing throng of early shift volunteers. Throw an errant child and perhaps a pet into the mix, and the pressure starts to rise. This past week posed an additional challenge, when the beauty school that anchors the complex held one of its Saturday classes, adding several dozen students (and their cars) to the puzzle.
And yet, despite the apparent impossibility, this small weekly miracle keeps repeating itself. There is always enough food. There is always a place for everyone. I suspect that if Jesus were to show up at our pantry on a Saturday (Hey there, J! Here’s an apron!) he’d recognize the miraculous abundance of love that always manages to make space for one more.
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