When I was in my late twenties, I attended classes in ceramic painting two evenings a week for a couple of years or so. During that period, I met the nicest woman. She was about 20 or so years older than me, and although we didn’t socialize outside of the class, we were very friendly in it, and I really liked her. When I quit going, we lost track of each other and I didn’t see her until three years later when I bumped into her at a grocery store parking lot. I was a fresh-out-of-a-horrible-marriage single mom and she had recently left her husband, she told me, who was an abusive alcoholic. That was something I never knew when we were going to art classes together. But then she didn’t know about my toxic marriage either.
Anyhow, in addition to trying to put back the pieces of her emotional life, she was struggling financially and dealing with health issues. Nevertheless, she remained optimistic and tried her best to put her life back together. She took some classes to finally receive a high school diploma and update her education, she found a small apartment to settle into and she got a minimum wage job to support herself. But despite all her efforts, the mountain she was attempting to climb kept getting bigger. The building she lived in was plagued with problems and eventually condemned. This left her with the struggle of finding another one to live in that was affordable. Her health issues made it difficult to work and she eventually lost her job. She didn’t qualify for unemployment, so she applied for welfare, which barely covered her basic living expenses. After she paid her rent and utilities, there was not enough money for a month’s supply of food. And so, like many other people going hungry, she eventually headed to the food bank.
Because of her health problems, it was extremely difficult for her to get around, let alone lug heavy boxes and bags home, so I volunteered to drive her to the food bank once a week to pick up a few things. It was her first experience there. And mine, too. Even though I'd grown up in a working class poor family, in a working class poor community, and having witnessed families struggling to make ends meet, I’d never been to a food bank until that day. There were quite a few people there. Men, women, children. All ages, all races. A diversity of people. Waiting. Patiently. Quietly. No one spoke. No one made eye contact. When they were called, they presented themselves, picked up their food, thanked the volunteer and exited. Quietly but quickly. I watched and wondered. What were their stories? How did it get to this point? Did their monthly expenses exceed their salaries? Was there an unexpected job loss? Were they dealing with physical or mental health issues? Is it because of lack of affordable housing? Were any of them homeless? Some other crisis? And did any one of them feel the way my friend did? Ashamed and judged and frightened and beaten down?
After I helped my friend get back home, I drove away thinking about how humbling and enlightening the whole experience had been. And quite alarming. Because this could happen to any one of us. But it was also infuriating. Because no one should go hungry. No one should need to do this. No one.
Have you ever been to a food bank?