Food shelves sure are interesting. The whole system they use at my particular food shelf is kinda difficult for me to cope with…I become very shy and quiet!
The food shelf is held at a local thrift store that is run by a Lutheran church in our community. It’s sweltering hot, and from the outside it doesn’t look like the place anyone would want to spend their afternoon. The building is rundown and is next door to an old abandoned gas station. There’s a big handpainted sign outside that gas station that says “Sod King.” I have no idea what that’s about.
You sign in at the small table they have set up outside the thrift store. A big wall fan is propped up on the table to help keep the volunteers cool, but I doubt it does much good. The words “Not For Sale” are written in black marker on the fan’s side.
I don’t think I’m the kind of person who normally shows up there. I’m in my bike shorts, carrying a helmet, backpack on my back, cut off gloves on my hands with duct tape on each glove. The tape holds extra padding in place; I put it there to help relieve my carpal tunnel.
I sign in and they give me my number. The girl who gives me my number can’t find my name at first, and I start to feel embarrassed. Like maybe I shouldn’t be there. As she waits for help from her supervisor, she asks me “what did you do to your arm?”
“What?” I respond, surprised, pretending I didn’t hear her the first time.
“What did you do to your arm?” she asks again, pointing at her own arm the location of some cuts poking out underneath my short sleeve.
“Oh…I hurt it.”
They find my name and give me a number. I am told to walk around the side of the building.
I pass the carcasses of “donations” to the thrift store on the way. Really it looks like the city dump.
People are sitting in fold out chairs underneath pop out sun shades. Old people, hispanic families with 4 kids and no father. An old gentleman with long hair and a beard and hawaiian print shorts. A volunteer pokes her head out of the doorway to the building and says “37?” Oh, so you just wait here till your number is called. I’m 39. I don’t feel like I deserve to stand in the shade, so I wait out in the hot sun with sweat starting to drip down my face.
I never feel very hot when I ride my bike. The wind going against my face is like a fan. But standing in the florida sun is sheer torture sometimes. My number is finally called.
An older gentleman calls it. I walk in, and it’s crowded in there. I would almost rather have waited longer out in the sun…the big crowd scares me. I think it was his first time doing this, because he didn’t look he knew what he was doing. He kept on asking his supervisor questions, like “So if her form says this, does that mean she can take two cans or 5?”
You see, you’re volunteer walks you around to all the different stations in the pantry, some with cans, meat, protein(which they consider to be peanut butter or 1 can of tuna), dry goods (cereal and macaroni and cheese boxes), canned beans, deserts, and bread. I think my volunteer’s name tag said “Steven,” but I can’t be sure, since I tried to not make eye contact. It helped that he was wearing sunglasses despite the dim lighting.
I never take all that I can. Mainly because my backpack won’t fit that. I try to stick with 2 to 5 cans, a cereal, a mac and cheese, peanut butter(I got tuna last time and it went too fast), and some bread. As much as I want to take some meat, I have worked in a grocery store long enough to know that the handling (and the temperature) is not “food safe.”
“You sure you don’t want a desert?” He points to a dutch apple pie from Publix Bakery. “Look at that pie, it looks good.”
“No thanks. I work at Publix and eat enough sweets there.”
” Oh you trying to watch your weight? What about some doughnuts, I bike too, I eat 4 of those little powdered doughnuts before I go biking.”
His persistence made me smile. “No thank you,” I said again. “I’m fine with what I have.”
I take my goods outside and load them into my backpack, trying to distribute the weight so that it doesn’t feel lopsided/cans don’t jab into my back. I turn on “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel on my ipod and unlock my bike, thankful that home is close, because the backpack is heavy.
I know deep down it’s nothing to be ashamed over, but I guess the reaction of my sister is still hanging in my head. “That’s no way to live, our mom taught us it’s okay to be on welfare and in debt and go to the food shelf and it’s just not right.”
I get why she sees it as stigmatizing but “that’s no way to live?” I don’t understand that comment. If “living” is fine dining and always having enough money for everything…it’s not really a goal of mine, then. “Living” would be not being afraid to socialize, not cutting, not feeling depressed/being in constant mood swings, not feeling like dying. That would be living. And if I were still going to the food shelf but experiencing all those things, I think that would be quite the life.