For those of you who were raised like me, upper middle-class benefiting from a racially assured track to success (for short I'll call us UM...BRATS) you've probably never stepped foot in a food pantry. Well then, let me tell you what it's like!
How it works
At our local food pantry they pack the bags for you, so there's a lot of waiting involved. I go in, take a number from a helpful high-school girl, and go in an adjacent room to wait. After about a half hour my number is called, and I hand over my food pantry card in exchange for two paper bags filled with canned goods. It's different every week, but there'll be a mix of real food (canned vegetables, soup, plain pasta) semi-food items (mac-and-cheese, chewy granola bars) and non-food items (cup-a-soup, swiss miss.) I can't choose among the items while I'm there but I can bring back anything I don't want the following week. For example, Dan vetoed the instant popcorn and the swiss miss, since the former contained no real butter and the latter no chocolate.
Oh, and a single roll of toilet paper. We get that every week.
Wishing on a list
I also get to fill out a "wish list" each week. This is a list of extra items from which I can request four things. Last week I chose cereal, crackers, soap, and juice. I was hoping for something like cranberry juice that we could serve at bible study, but the apple juice we got only had apple juice concentrate as the third ingredient AFTER corn syrup, so Dan made it go into the "take back" bag. The crackers, well, I was hoping for Ritz or Triskets but ended up with matzah crackers. Beggars something something choosers. But the cereal was good old Market Basket brand Tasteos, so we came out ahead there.
The previous week I did better with the wish list. I chose cereal (and got name brand honey nut cheerios!), shampoo, conditioner, and tea. The tea was Tetley black tea which turns out to be good. And I surprised myself by just how happy I was to get a big bottle of shampoo and conditioner. Let me tell you, I've skated along for a long time with baking soda and hippy ideals, but when free shampoo was on offer I suddenly realized that I was REALLY EXCITED TO WASH MY HAIR!
Harvey, on the other hand, was most psyched about the cheerios.
But wait, there's more!
There's also a "free table" which contains fresh produce (sometimes) a million loaves of Panera bread, and a mix of things they're having trouble giving away. This is the most exciting part of the food pantry for me, because we've gotten the most valuable stuff there. A can of pumpkin, the exact same brand we use for making pie, lots and lots of baby food, a squash that Dan made into delicious soup, and a box of Gerber brand rice cereal which turned out to be the only thing Zion wants to eat. I'd been trying various homemade solids for him but he spit out all my apple sauce and mashed sweet potato. The rice cereal, on the other hand, got gobbled up right away.
All in all it's a pretty great thing, this food pantry of ours.