Originally published in March 2009 at Chicago Moms Blog. Food pantries are hurting this time of year. Please consider donating time, food or money to your local food bank.
Last week, in a grown-up version of Alternative Spring Break, I spent an afternoon at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. I was due there at the southwest side facility at 1:00 and left my north suburban house around noon, without eating lunch first. My volunteer commitment was to last until 4:00 and I knew I wouldn't make it on an empty stomach. How obnoxious would that be-- showing up at the food pantry only to complain about being hungry? Oh yeah, as embarrassing as this incident.
So I grabbed a bit of road food, which then left me feeling a bit rushed. I headed to the highway to find a jackknifed semi blocking the entrance. It only took me one illegal U-turn to remedy the situation, though. (This from a recent graduate of Traffic Safety School.) I was driving in mid-day traffic, but it felt like rush hour. I think I averaged about 40 mph on the expressway.
The Food Depository is huge. They distribute over 46 million pounds of food each year, helping an estimated 500,000 people annually. For over a decade my dad's business has made a holiday donation to the organization in lieu of buying client gifts, so it was nice to see firsthand how the money helps the Chicagoland community.
Though I arrived a few minutes late, it didn't take long to catch up and get in the groove. We packed boxes for seniors. This involved three main tasks- prepping boxes, filling boxes with the designated foods and cleaning up. Guess which job was assigned to late arrivals?
I unpacked bulk cases in order to keep the fillers supplied with the necessary products and then broke down the corrugated boxes. I also walked the line cleaning up other empty boxes or wrapping material.
For an unpaid group we worked quickly and efficiently. In just under three hours our group of 20 or so volunteers packed 800 boxes, or about 10 thousand pounds of food. My job didn't leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling, but I was aware that even in breaking down boxes, I was playing a necessary role in a larger, more important task.
In the coming year, I plan to get more involved in hunger initiatives. If that means sweeping the floors after a group of volunteers pack up food, so be it. I'm hoping for something a little more exciting this time around, though I may not get as personally involved as this blog sistah.