Monday, August 13, 2012

The Faces Of Hunger (Take Two): Your Friendly Neighborhood Food Pantry & Another Church Dinner

On any given month, the last week becomes something of a scramble for The Squawker and yours truly, The Reckoner.

There's no precious little reason to the proceedings; often, it's simply down to the calendar's infernal rhythms. Stretching resources over a five-week month, versus a four-week one, becomes ever more challenging -- so when you run out, you run out, simple as that.

As the Squawker and myself have seen, food is typically the first resource to go. Last month (July 24), we visited one of our Friendly Neighborhood Food Pantries...I had a freelancing check coming, but it was three or four days off, which feels like a lifetime in this situation.

Mumbling, "Beggars can't be choosers," or some such nostrum, the Squawker and myself tropped off to the pantry...and we could only tell ourselves, "What a difference a year makes!"

Previously, you could count on some type of meat item – be it chicken, or canned somthing-or-other – but, alas, not on this occasion. We were Ninth and Tenth in a line of ten, so by the time we were called, they'd run out of chicken...all the operators could provide in this area were packages of some off-brand lunch meat. They apologized profusely; we shrugged it off, responding, "Beggars can't be choosers."

Or perhaps they should get a bit more choosy: when the Squawker and I unpacked our solitary cardboard box's contents at home, we found that both lunch meat packets were, shall we say, a good seven or eight months past their expiration date.

So we pitched them into the wastebin; no sense in playing "Territory" with our stomachs, we thought.

Admittedly, we haven't visited as many pantries this summer, as we were forced to do last fall, and winter...but, when we have made the pilgrimage, we're noticing expiration dates of six months to a year old on certain things,...partcularly on canned goods, and packaged items, such as the odd box of crackers (which make a good ingredient for ground meat dishes).

Are we simply seeing more stock from the bottom of the barrel, or shelf (so to speak), as more people turn to food pantries? That's one piece of speculation that the Squawker and I have bandied about, but without outside confirmation, we can't say for sure.

Suffice to say, when my check did arrive, we were never so glad to see $100 in our lives.

Four days later (July 28), the Squawker and I experienced a totally different scene: another free community dinner put on by one of the local Lutheran churches, at its nearby recreation center -- as always, open to all comers...first come, first served, and all that.

Of course, a "dinner" that starts at 11:30 a.m. is closer to a community lunch...we need not beat the neo-Orwellian implications to death.

The Squawker and I periodically attend these dinners to stretch our food budget -- particularly at the end of the month, when money's a bit tighter. This time, we knew something was up as we rolled into the parking lot, and saw the line snaking right up near the entrance doors.

I volunteered to get out, and hold a place for both of us. After a roughly 10-minute wait, I beckoned the Squawker to join me, and once we made our way inside, we encountered an extraordinary scene. Last time, I think we didn't see more than three dozen people. This time, though, my quick count showed roughly 100 people filling the room, with hardly an empty chair or table place in sight.

Even so, we wanted some peace and quiet, so once we'd filled our plates with chicken -- augmented with cole slaw and mashed potatoes for me, and a timely substitution of rolls for the Squawker, who's allergic to foods of the mashed variety -- we made a beeline for the great outdoors.

We sat on the concrete ledge outside, watching people as they came and went, or bravd another wait in line for seconds. Now and again, one of the church servers made noises about us being required to eat inside. I solved that problem by telling them, "We're just catching some fresh air, we'll be back in a minute."

A different worker came out every time, so we got away with this exercise in dramatic license.

Looking around, it was easy to feel trapped in some '90s-era comedy skit, an impression underscored by one hulking's Homey The Clown T-shirt, and the various pixie or fringed haircuts that many of the women still sported, in defiance of all subsequent fashion norms.

Even so, at least I recognized a handful of people from last time, but could only wonder: how far and wide has the word spread? Where'd all these new people come from, and are they here for the same reason?

And, lastly, what does this explosion of numbers say about where we're headed?

We didn't stick around to ponder the implications. Having cleared our plates...and weary of a Saturday afternoon that threatened to soar past the mid-80-degree mark...we got back in the car and headed home, to reclaim what remained of our peace and quiet. --The Reckoner

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