by Maureen McNair
A bottle of scented hand sanitizer. A ﬁve dollar bill tucked in an envelope. Homemade food. These are just some of the gifts our pantry clients give to our pantry and volunteers on Saturdays.
This past Saturday, one of our existing clients told me he owned a signage business and oﬀered to make more laminated numbers similar to the ones we hand out to clients so we can practice a ﬁrst-come, ﬁrst-served food distribution. He oﬀered signs and banners too. All for free.
It’s hard to know how to respond. I don’t want pantry clients to spend their own funds on behalf of the pantry or its volunteers. But, I want to accept their thanks too in the way they oﬀer it. So, another volunteer and I settled on accepting laminated numbers because we really need them now. We passed on accepting more expensive signs and banners, at least temporarily. After all, we let him know, we’ll be moving soon, so our information might change.
Of course, some community members also oﬀer to volunteer with us. We have really enjoyed getting to work along side some of community members. Because of the pandemic, they have spent more time inside our church suites than many church members over the past year and a half.
This past Saturday, we brought on board two community members in an unusual way.
One of our regular clients told me a quite long story about her son, who she described as disabled. He was sitting in a car she gestured to, but the sun was hitting the windshield at such an angle, I could not determine if he was 12 or 20 years old.
She said he had been posting things on the internet that upset people. She went into quite a bit of detail I won’t share here. I listened to her story, not sure at all why she was sharing it with me. It turns out this was all prelude to her request that we let her son volunteer with us right away so he would have something to do since she banished him from the internet.
If anyone tells you we plan everything that happens at the pantry in advance, it is a sure sign they have never worked at a food distribution. We make up things as we go along.
I was not prepared at all for how to respond to a request to have a disabled person with inappropriate internet behavior volunteer on the spot. So, I asked her if her son was a minor. She said he was 32 years old. I asked her if she could have him get out of the car and come meet me. She did. I could not see his disability, but conversation was diﬃcult.
I asked him if he wanted to volunteer with us to hand out food. He just repeated back some of the words I had said without looking at me.
So, I punted. I let her know that if she wanted to volunteer with him then, we could train them both to hand out bread, and we would see how it goes.
Eventually, other volunteers showed up, so I shared with them the situation and how I handled it. They both approved. So, another regular volunteer gave mother and son on the job training.
Our new volunteers had to secure their dog, which they had brought to the pantry. So we got started handing out bread 10 minutes late. But, everything went ﬁne after that. So, I invited them back to volunteer Labor Day Weekend at the same task so they could master it. We’ll see what happens!
I am so glad though the mother feels like she knows and trusts us enough to be upfront with us about her diﬃculties and to ask for help in a way that ended up, at least for last Saturday, beneﬁting our whole pantry community.
8/19/2021 07:17:36 pm
Maureen, your sensitivity and respect for the varied situations of the South Bay food pantry clients is inspiring. As volunteers, Jeff and I find it very powerful to connect with members of our South Bay community via the pantry!
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