by Rhea Kuhlman, South Bay Food Pantry Volunteer.
At the South Bay Food Pantry, we never know until the last minute what kinds of fresh produce we’ll receive from the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding San Diego, or how much meat or bread will be available for our families on Saturday. But one thing we can always be sure of is that the bags of shelf stable goods the mid-week baggers put together every week will contain good healthy food that can keep a family going, regardless of what else is available. The SBFB always keeps on hand stores of non-perishable items to supplement the fresh and frozen items we distribute each Saturday
Every bag contains some sort of protein, such as dried beans or lentils or peanut butter. Sometimes there are cans of tuna, or individual serving packets of chicken. There’s usually a starch, maybe rice or pasta, with some sort of tasty sauce to go along with it. For breakfast, there are bags of oatmeal or some other healthy cereal product – and sometimes even boxes of raisins to go with them! Finally, we’re always sure to include cans of vegetables and fruit. This time of year, there are usually plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to distribute, but in the wintertime these fresh items may be in short supply, and the canned varieties ensure families will still have access to varied and nutritious food whatever the season.
So how do the bags get packed? Team leader Dan Ratelle has a magic online spreadsheet where folks can sign up to pack bags at a time that’s convenient to them. Teams consist of two to four people who check Deirdre Lonergan’s instructions for what’s to go in the bags, and how many bags to pack. Deirdre bases her estimates on how many families showed up the week before, and lately there have been a lot.
We arrange cases of each item on the long table in the middle of the room and set up a mini assembly line and start packing. Our team likes to turn on some lively music and rock out to Motown or Disco, which keeps us peppy for the hour or two we’re packing bags. With the recent increase in the cost of food and gas, there’s been a concomitant increase in the number of families needing help, so we now have two teams a week packing bags. The bags are stored in huge bins near the front door, ready to be handed out on Saturday.
Although some of us mid-week baggers never get to meet the folks this food is intended for, there’s a great feeling of satisfaction when we turn out the lights and lock the door at the end of our shift, knowing that some family will have a week of healthy meals because of our efforts. And the bonus is getting to work and chat with other dedicated UUs that we might not get to see otherwise!
With summer on its way, travel plans will diminish our supply of volunteer workers. Want to join the party? Contact volunteer extraordinaire Deirdre Lonergan, firstname.lastname@example.org, and rock on!
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