I occasionally need to stop at Walgreen's on my way into work. Well, want. And kind of need, but mostly want. Not the point. When I do, I take a back route the rest of the way to the office. And on that route, I pass a lot of houses, a school, a historic mansion, and a LOT of churches.
But there are two in particular I want to talk about.
I don't know their names or denominations. I only know them by their signs. Now, church signs can be funny - I've seen plenty of good ones. In the summer, you often see, "You Think This Is Hot? Try Hell."
Another good one: What's Missing from CH CH? UR!
Anyway, one of the signs is scripture, which is on brand - I don't mind a little gospel preached in sticky letters.
But the other one is the one that I always take note of.
It tells the passersby what the items they're collecting for the food pantry that week are. Yeah, that's right - one week it might be boxed pasta, rice, and tuna. The next week, canned fruits /vegetables, spices, and drink mixes. Powdered milk, peanut butter.
This week, it's baking mixes, canned soups, crackers, and snacks.
There are a number of reasons I like this.
For starters, it's an every week thing. This church realizes that people aren't hungry just at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they have their congregants in the mindset of being charitable year round. And an extra box of Bisquick, or some Cream of Mushroom, or some Fruit Roll-Ups won't break a person. It's something many people can do with very little effort.
It's for the people, by the people. It's a homegrown approach that requires more than throwing money at it. I mean, yes, they're using money to buy things to give to people, but there's some method to the madness.
The method. I love that every week, they have a different ask. From time to time, Kroger makes a pre-packaged bundle you can donate at the exit of the store. It's $5 and it's ALWAYS boxed mac and cheese, a jar of peanut butter, a can of tuna, a can of green beans, and some fruit cocktail. I'm not going to lie - I eat all of those things, but it's not exactly what you'd order out at TGIFridays.
But at this church, they're making sure they cover the whole gamut. So yes, there's peanut butter - but there's also powdered drink mixes. There's Rice-A-Roni, and there's dried beans. It's very thoughtful.
I also like that it's there for anyone who passes by and thinks, "Jeez, I haven't give to Second Harvest in forever, I should write them a check". Or venmo, whatever.
At my last company, I volunteered to serve dinner at the Nashville Mission a few times. It's a men's shelter. There are some in-facility residential programs, and then a need-based overnights kind of thing. But they also feed people.
And a lot of the guys coming through the line are what you might assume, shaggy guys who haven't got anywhere to be. They look beat and beat up. Ragged hair, clothes, expressions. Nice as can be, friendly, hungry. They may want to tell you their story. They may want a bigger piece of cake than the one you're handing them. But these are guys that are the direct result of "shit happens".
The ones that kind of take your breath away are the ones who come in looking business casual-ish. They might have a job at a Verizon store, or some low level admin gig, or whatever. They are clean, polished-ish looking - no Rolexes or leather driving gloves, but clean dress pants, an inexpensive sports shirt. These are the guys whose money ran out before the month (or week or whatever) did. Maybe the child support they dutifully pay wiped them out this month. Maybe their shoes finally gave out and they had to replace them. They just need to save whatever they have left for bus fare, or gas money, or to pay their electric bill - and it's either eat here or don't eat. So they swallow their pride, as well as whatever lands on the tray that night. They aren't as chatty - they may feel like they shouldn't have to be there. I don't know. I don't fault anyone who walks through the line for being there.
Once, I volunteered right after Halloween, and one of the local pumpkin patches had brought over a truckload of pumpkins that didn't sell. That night, along with the rest of dinner, everyone got a thick slab of steamed, buttered pumpkin. That thing I buy, carve and let rot? They ate tons of it. In all my times there, it was one of the better looking things we served. A lot of day old bakery stuff. A lot of Beefaroni. Here, there are no Keto plates, no Whole 30 adherents.
I am keenly aware that I am both overfed and a huge waster of food. I try very hard with the latter to be restrained and sensible. But I have missed the boat. Earlier this week, I was cooking some dinner, and my husband said the smell of the meat I was cooking was "off". I feel fairly certain that it was fine. It looked and smelled fine out of the package. But since I don't want to be the one responsible for poisoning my husband, I tossed it, and we moved on. I'm not saying we should give the food insecure our possibly tainted discarded foods. I am saying that I should probably buy more shelf-stable things, or frozen foods - whatever it takes to waste less.
And I should drop by that church one Sunday and hand over some of the suggested items. I probably wouldn't stay for the services, but I bet they would probably be OK with me if I did.
Based solely on their scripture choices, the other church would probably get struck by lightning if I went to their Sunday service.