Blog Post written by Mary Dancy, Individual Giving Assistant.
Working as a part-time staff in the development office of the Capital Area Food Bank does not often provide an opportunity for me to visit some of our many programs to see how they operate.
The Mobile Food Pantry Program is one such program. It conducts outreach and distribution at two sites once a month. One site, the Ambassador Baptist Church is located in SE Washington. The other site is located at the Langley Park Community Center in Langley Park, MD.
Since Fridays are my day off from work, I decided to volunteer at the Langley Park site to get a better idea of how this operation works. My hope was that through observation and participation with those individuals who benefited from this service, I would be better positioned to speak to the need for raising funds to sustain these necessary programs.
On my first volunteer experience, I knew there would be a lot of people waiting in line when the truck rolled up with its packaged staples (meat, pasta, cereal, peanut butter, etc.) and its pallets of fresh fruit and vegetables (or whatever was available in large quantity at the time of the distribution).
What I didn’t know was the amount of precision involved in setting up the site and moving the lines of people through it in an orderly fashion. We only had three hours to serve as many (and sometimes more) than 100 families. Efficiency not only dictated the stationing of volunteers at specific food drops, but required cooperation and patience from the crowd of recipients, many of whom had small babies and children with them. There were also some elderly veterans and others with their baskets affixed to their walkers to collect whatever they could manage.
The whole process was remarkable, especially when one considers that this activity takes place outside under whatever weather conditions happen to prevail at the time.
One particular distribution day stands out in my mind. It was Friday, January 28. I had to follow a detour to get to the site due to a police blockade for a bank robbery and hostage situation nearby that later hit the news. I arrived at the parking lot where there was a mix of sleet and snow coming down. The food bank truck had not yet arrived (probably due to the detour) and I did not see any lines of people. I thought that maybe the distribution was cancelled due to the weather. But I discovered that the Langley Park Community Center had graciously allowed people to wait inside until the distribution had been set up.
The truck rolled in and the volunteers and food bank staff went to work quickly to unload it while others counted families and passed out number tickets so we could accurately track how many were served this day.
Within a short period I was dripping from the wintry mix; even my waterproof boots were soaked! But I didn’t notice it at the time as I handed out the bags of potatoes at my station to women with their children in tow and babies in strollers covered with plastic to keep them dry. As the line began to reach the end we handed out the remaining produce and I watched as a woman walked away with a bag of onions balanced on her head and a small child by her side.
The three hours came and went and as I drove home to get out of my soggy clothes, I realized that the hardest part of my day was over, but for many of the families I had just served, it was just beginning.