We are Very Hungry

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.

Gratitude

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good
The Sound of Music

I was a little nervous when I walked into the Manna facility today.   It has been over six months since I last volunteered at the warehouse.   What kind of changes would I see?  What about the people that I used to work with?  Would they still be there?  Was I going to be taken completely by surprise?

All my worries vanished the moment I walked in the door.  I was totally floored by the way I was greeted by both the staff and my fellow volunteers.  There was so much warmth in the greetings, and so much concern about my health and the state of my recovery from the accident.  There was a palpable sense of concern about my well-being.  And I got this kind of a response from almost all the people I used to interact with regularly in the warehouse in the past, even people that I did not expect to remember me.  I was touched.

The Tuesday team of volunteers is still alive and well at Manna, and I was glad to see the volunteers that I had worked with regularly in the past on my first day back.  This is perhaps the right moment for me to show a picture that was taken at the warehouse at the end of 2015.Distro Volunteers MusclesOn the right side of of the picture, standing up, is Jamal, the warehouse manager then and now.  (He was the one who had asked for the particular picture to be taken.)  When I arrived, he came out to the front of the warehouse to say hello.   (What you are seeing on the racks behind us are the open packages of perishable food that are to be given to customers in the  afternoon.  This open box will be accompanied by a closed box of non-perishable food, and frozen meat, bread, and other  items that might be available at that time from the donations that keep Manna going.)

Not all of the people in the picture above continue to work on the distribution side of things on Tuesdays, but, as I found out today, there still is an effective core of volunteers that come in on that day of the week to rock the joint!  I feel I have a connection with these folks that is unique in some ways.  And the connection showed in the way I was greeted this morning.

Mike, on the left hand side of the picture, is a grandfather in his seventies, who, after a successful career running a company, comes in to help regularly.  He is also responsible for fixing things in the warehouse and building whatever is needed.  In this regard he is willing to work on any problem that comes his way.  He and I assembled a bunch of mobile racks (similar of the ones you see in the picture) a few months ago.

Guliz, next to Mike, used to work for the US. State Dept, Turkish Culture & Language Section in DC for many years, and seems to spend a lot of her time outside of Manna speaking up about different social causes, not the least of which is the effect of the drift towards autocratic governance in her country of origin.  She is a “live wire” when it comes to getting things done.

The tall guy next to me (towards the center of the picture, in the back wearing black) is Steve.  He retired from a government job and he volunteers two days a week at Manna. He started about the same time I did.  He is the steady guy who knows what needs to be done at all times, and also jumps in to help with anything and everything where needed.

It would be fair to say that the volunteers I have noted from the picture above help make it happen in the distribution system on Tuesdays with the assistance of the other volunteers who are there on a more temporary basis.   I am happy to be a part of this core group that gets it done.

There is one other person in the picture whom I have not seen for a long time, and who we all miss at Manna.  Doug, standing in the back between Mike and Steve, is also a hardworking and versatile worker.  I used to enjoy hearing his jokes and stories, especially those experiences from his time in the Vietnam War as a mechanic working on aircraft in the field.  We have not seen him recently.  I hope he is keeping well.

And then there is Miss Blanche, a Manna employee who is not in the picture, who works with the distribution volunteers providing direction.  In her seventies (I believe!), she tries very hard to keep things in order while a kind of organized chaos reigns around her.

The remarkable thing is that we are all people with widely varied backgrounds who have come together to do a single thing, and that we do this as a team effectively.

The greeting I got from Jamal, Mike, Guliz, Steve, and Miss Blanche was particularly touching today.  I am back in a place that I want to be in, doing things that make me feel good about myself.  Being back at Manna is probably good for my mental state and sense of balance, and hopefully it helps in getting me back into better physical shape also.

I tried to take it easy in the warehouse today, and it took an extra effort on my part to back off from doing the things that I usually tend to do there.  But I was careful, and the folks around me were also looking out for me.  I also worked for a shorter duration of time than usual, and I came out of the experience not feeling as tired as I usually do.  I feel fine, and I took forward to stepping it up with time.