I was doing at task at Manna that I usually do not. I had been avoiding it for a while. Because none of the other “regulars” had shown up, I was the only volunteer left to do it. Basically, the task involved greeting the customers when they came in to pick up their food, checking their identification, ticking their names off a list, and getting signatures. It sounds simple, but it was the small variations in the type of folks who come to pick up food that I was not used to. People can pick up food for others if they have their IDs, case workers can pick up food for their clients with their own IDs, organizations can pick up food for a larger number of clients, etc.. I was simply being lazy and trying to avoid having to remember what needed to be done in each case.
In any case, it was time for me to bite the bullet and learn the process a little better since there was nobody else there to step in. Things went nicely, and it was actually nice to talk to some of the clients, beyond the conversations that one might have with them when actually delivering food to their vehicles.
I was taking care of stuff when I heard voices emanating from the window where clients go to talk to the Manna staff when needed. In the background I could hear somebody talking about not having food, and about her child not having gone to school that day because she was being bullied, and about travails related a job situation. The staff member (a person who must have a good heart, and who will remain anonymous for this blog) was asking questions. Usually, the people who receive food on a particular day are on a printed list that is prepared from information collected ahead of time. But an exception was made based on information provided. The staff member went through the required process as an urgent matter.
The lady who had been talking to the staff member was now a client and was being allowed to pick up food the same day. She walked up to me with her daughter and presented me with a tiny piece of paper. On it was the information that I would normally have found on the printed sheets for the clients. I improvised and wrote the name at the bottom of the printed list, checked ID, and got the required signature. While this was happening, the lady mentioned that they had no food at home and that they were very hungry. I was struck by a sense of urgency by the statement even though the lady was speaking in a calm manner.
We were giving out one piece of pastry to the customers that day, but I said that they could take two if they wanted. The daughter addressed me politely – “Sir, can I take this one”. I said “sure’, but then noticed that mom had already taken two pastries. I pointed this out and the mother and daughter decided on which pastry that was already in their hands they were going to put back. It was an “Oliver Twist” moment. Meanwhile, I began to feel like a jerk. Why should I be limiting food to hungry people? Anyway, the clients were being allowed unlimited amounts of bread that day (because we had a lot of bread, and bread goes bad quickly) and I made sure to emphasize that fact while they were picking through the bread available on the rack. The mother and daughter left with their food (which also included a closed box of dry food, some meat, and an open box of perishables, including fruits, vegetables and prepared foods). I was left thinking about how they would feel once they got some food in their stomachs.
While volunteering, there are occasional incidents that challenge me mentally and take me outside my comfort zone. Some of them are good for me, and that is perhaps one of the points of the exercise.