We are helping families achieve security.
Two Cans of Corn. It doesn't seem like much, but to some families it means the world. While at one of the School Pantry Pilot sites recently the site coordinator shared an emotional story with me. She mentioned that a new family began coming to the pantry 2 weeks before.
The family consisted of a single mom and her children. For the sake of this story we will call her Maria. Maria was in crisis when she walked in the doors of the Family Welcome Center, where the School Pantry is housed, because she had no food for her children. The shelves at her home were completely empty, and the refrigerator was unfilled too. The stresses of everyday life were almost too much to bear. Maria was told about the St. Mary's Food Bank School Pantry in her children's school district and walked in to receive help.
When she walked into the pantry, the site coordinator said her eyes lit up. This place is different from other places where people go for help. It is bright, inviting, clean, and welcoming. The shelves are stocked as well as a grocery store and with more of a variety than one might expect. Maria was able to shop for the foods she wanted and the foods she needed to help feed her family. She was able to select nearly 40 items from the pantry: cereals, rice, beans, peanut butter, jelly, breads, vegetables, stews, fruits, and milk. The food is meant to supplement a family until they visit the pantry the next week, and is intended to be paired with other groceries. However in some cases, such as Maria's, this was her family's only food source that week. She had to make it stretch in this emergency. Maria came back and told the site coordinator that one night her children were so hungry that she opened the cans of corn she received from the pantry and her children began devouring the corn straight out of the can. At this point in sharing the story with me, the site coordinator got choked up. Her emotions were contagious given the gravity of the situation. She put on a happy face and told me: "This is why the School Pantry is so important."
After the coordinator told me this story, there was an influx of families arriving all at once to shop in the pantry. I helped her greet the parents, stock the shelves, throw out the empty boxes, and carry food to people's cars. About an hour later, I was walking back inside from delivering food to a car and I saw a new face in the pantry. She was speaking to the site coordinator and when she saw me she waved at me like an old friend. I was immediately confused and embarrassed: have I met her before and did I forget? She looked in my direction and said: "You're so young and you're helping so many of us." I was still confused and tried to explain to her that the food was not from me, but rather from the food bank. I had merely help set up the site. She didn't care and she didn't believe me. Her eyes welled up with tears and she told me: "God bless you; you are helping so many people. Now my family can eat." Before I knew what was happening, she walked towards me and gave me a huge and emotional hug. I looked at her and told her this is why the School Pantry exists, to help families. I reminded her to come back again next week and she gave me a final hug and uttered several more thanks as she walked out the door.
After she left, I looked at the site coordinator in awe. "That was Maria," she told me. It all made sense in that moment. This was more than food for Maria. That week, it was a lifesaving resource. It was the sense of certainty that there will be food to eat. Some may think we are simply distributing some canned foods to families through the School Pantry, but in actuality, we are helping families achieve security. It's more than food; it's hope.
*Kimberly Roland is a Child Hunger Corps member at St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance in Phoenix, AZ