What would it be like to walk 2 miles round trip to get one bag of groceries...then turn around and do it two more times...in 17 degree snowy weather? What would it be like to have two boys with winer jackets, but no snow boots? What would it be like to pay your rent, electricity and gas bills and have no money left over for food? What would it be like to lose your job due to recession and have to move in with a friend who is barely covering his bills? I honestly don't know. I have lived a privileged life...yes there have been times when my parents went with out so I could have new shoes for gym and times as an adult where I have had to eat Ramen instead of something fresh, but I have always been fortunate enough to make ends meet...and on the occasions when I couldn't I had family to back me up and help me out. I have worked 3 jobs at a time, I have lived with in-laws and I have sold everything I owned, but I have never been forced to understand true financial hardship (Now heart ache? That's my true story).
I was asked by a friend to volunteer with her at our local food shelf this week...and in the depths of my co-dependency I couldn't say no. I am glad I made that choice. I have volunteered all my life...animal shelters, kid's with autism, disabled children using horses for therapy, the Wild One's schools...preschool through 6th grade. I have donated money to causes close to my heart and causes in honor of others. I stock my wallet with one dollars bills to help pad the red kettles each christmas, I donate (and instigate) clothes drives and I single handedly filled the local Goodwill last month. NONE of that compares (don't get all cranky...everything I have done was very worthwhile, enjoyable and I will continue to do it all with enthusiasm) to working first hand with people who cannot provide themselves with basic human supplies. It was a very humbling experience (although I did have to flick the judgmental kitten off my shoulder a few times).
I felt strange when people came in asking for toilet paper...when I need toilet paper I hop in my car and drive to Target and load up a big old 24 pack. I will never do that again with out thinking of that soft tissue as a privilege. If anyone is moved to donate to your (or my) local food shelf please learn something from my experience. The people that I met don't necessarily want or need the things that we have been lead to believe that they need. Items that were most often requested were toilet paper, feminine products and easy to prepare foods, but remember that if things like oil, butter, milk and eggs are needed to prepare...they probably do not have those things at home. We could not give away the canned veggies or fruit, but quickly ran out of coffee, milk and cookies. Check with your food shelf as the one I was at does have freezers (for things like hamburger) and refrigerators for perishables.
While it seemed like some people were working the system (everything is weighed and tracked...although no one is ever turned away), others turned down our offers of more...they only took what they absolutely needed. One boy left with a new pair of boots (and a mother who had the most beautiful smile) and an older gentleman left with this phrase, "Thank you for being here. Thank you for volunteering." Sign me up for next week.