The Human Side of Our Public Neighborhood Food Distributions

Every month, residents of downtown SLO have the opportunity to visit our public Neighborhood Food Distribution at the senior center on Santa Rosa Street. In August 2019, I had a chance to visit and talk to both the volunteers and recipients.

Since the first individuals on site are usually our volunteers, Jerry and Mary were already setting up the tables and preparing produce bags when I arrived. Jerry, who has long been retired, has helped out in our warehouse before but prefers to lend a hand where food gets distributed to people struggling with hunger.

Mary, who works just down the street as an attorney, has been volunteering at this site for several years. She comes every month because it fits perfectly into her work schedule and because she enjoys supporting an organization with a great mission.

As the clock slowly approached the full hour, a waiting line with about half a dozen individuals began to form. Among them were Paula* and Caroline*. Paula has, as she recalls, volunteered at Grace Church’s food pantry from 2010 to 2015, but is now at risk of hunger and grateful for everything she gets. Today, she is excited to hear that turkey breast and a whole chicken are included in the food bags that every visitor can take home.

Caroline is a retired nurse who worked at a state hospital. When she was still employed, she used to stop at our food distributions to pick up some bread. Because Caroline lives alone, she doesn’t need much, so she only seeks help once a month, preferring the site at the senior center whenever she can make it. Her days are often filled with assisting elderly people in the mobile home park where she lives. She doesn’t accept money for doing so because she enjoys the company and finds happiness in being there for others whenever they need someone. Caroline favors fruits and vegetables because they help her eat nutritiously. She also often shares some of the food items she receives at our distributions with her neighbors because someone else might like to eat what she doesn’t need and it’s a way better option than throwing it out.

This morning, Mary is also handing out samples of a recipe that has been prepared by the SLO Food Bank Nutrition team. As usual, the dish includes ingredients that people are receiving at the food distribution. Today, that involves potatoes, onions, peppers, and tomatoes. Richard, one of the recipients who showed up later on, curiously walked up to Mary to receive a sample. He quickly complimented how good it smelled and tasted, decidedly grabbed a printed recipe, and then happily declared to everybody at the site that they should try the sample before leaving.

I left with the feeling of how wonderful it is when people who are strangers come together without prejudice or judgment to support each other in times of need. Every one of us can experience a phase in life where we can either be on the giving or receiving end of the table, and there should be no shame or guilt in asking or accepting help!

– By Luise Gleason, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

*names changed for privacy