By Rhea Kuhlman, Pantry Volunteer
While most of our Food Pantry’s clients have homes, and many have one or more jobs, a few of our clients are unsheltered. Each week, we prepare about five bags of shelf stable food for homeless people, who have special needs due to their lack of a place or equipment to cook meals or store items that need refrigeration.
What goes into our shelf-stable bags for the homeless? We seek ready to eat proteins such as tuna or chicken in pop-top cans, peanut butter in plastic jars, bread and crackers, fruit and vegetables in pop-top cans, boxed or canned non-refrigerated milk, protein bars, plastic utensils, sanitation items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitizer, and soap. It’s also helpful to have extra thick plastic bags that can be carried for long distances with breaking. Except for bread, most of these items are not readily available from our regular sources, and we depend on donations from church members to fulfill these special needs.
I’ve learned a lot from the homeless people whom I’ve met at the pantry. One man was a retired teacher who had taught in the Chula Vista school system for 30 years. Medical expenses caused him to lose his home. Another appears to be suffering from PTSD due to military service.
A man I’ll call Pedro has come to my rescue on more than one occasion. He is sometimes the only person around when I arrive at 7 a.m. to work the early shift at the Pantry. He finds me staring up hopelessly at a 7’ high stack of pallets which need to be carried out for pickup by the Feeding San Diego truck. At 5’2”, there’s no way I can reach the top of that stack, and Pedro has jumped in and worked tirelessly, with his scarecrow thin frame, to carry every one of those heavy pallets out to the loading area, single handedly. Completely fluent in both English and Spanish, he’s helped out as a translator on occasion, and cheerfully does any job he sees that needs doing. Pedro is a regular volunteer at the Pantry, and is steadfast in his insistence that he receive no special treatment. “I like to be helpful,” he responded to my profuse thanks the first time we worked together. Despite being homeless, Pedro often picks up his grand-daughter to take her to appointments, and it’s reassuring to know he has family in the area. I often wonder why such a kind, capable, and caring individual is still homeless, but I guess that’s a common story of life in San Diego. I’m thankful that the Pantry is there to help people like him.
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