Poverty or destitution by definition refers to the deprivation of basic human needs, such as water, food, sanitation, clothing, shelter, health care, and education. In my opinion, poverty is man’s greatest enemy because it’s seems to be inversely proportional with our achievements. Astounding breakthroughs in technology that increase our efficiency inadvertently make essential people dispensable, creating a cycle of hardship related to our progress that seems indefinite. Sometimes it’s just the way the dice roles, most people are one tragedy from being completely drained financially, whether is your car breaks down or someone becomes extremely ill. Today when I worked at the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee Food Pantry, I met some of these people.
I drove to the corner of Cleveland and Jefferson in Midtown and found my way to The Dozier House where the pantry is located on the Sacred Heart Campus at about nine in the morning. I get out of my car and I walk through the parking lot beside the old church administration buildings. They immediately remind me of my old school because of the old brick and odd additions to the buildings that obviously were not part of the original structure. It’s chilly as I look at the surroundings of the pantry. I notice a shady shopping mall across the street and several houses in every direction that seem vandalized and abandoned. There’s a random assortment of people on the street, some I assumed from their attire were on their way to work while others seemed just to be drifting with a strange assortment of items (Baltimore and “The Wire” was all I was thinking). I make my way up the side walk through the black fenced gate to the brown door.
I try the door and it’s locked but before I can try the intercom the door opens and I meet the other volunteers. I come into the entry way and again I’m reminded of my school, the old carpeted floor creeks while I step and the air smells aged but not stale. Inside I meet Felix, Gloria, Melinda, and Mary. I introduce myself and they quickly rattle of their names but before I really meet them Ms. Mary quickly hustles me down the hall way to the stock rooms to show me what I’ll be doing while I’m there. The first thing I notice about Ms. Mary is her aged New York accent, which is made exponentially better by her jests. She tells me about how the building use to be a convent but then was converted into a shelter for people with disabilities and dependencies for a short while before they lost their funding. The shelter makes since because as I walk down the hall you notice several rooms with fireplaces that now are packed with pallets of canned goods. I make it to the back kitchen where Ms. Mary shows me how they fill the specific grocery sacks for different size families and how they have lists for what goes in each sack so that way the family can meet all of its nutritional needs. She shows me to the back where I start unpacking boxes from donors and organizing. I put my phone on Pandora and go to it for about an hour and then head back up to the front of the building to the other volunteers.
I make my way to a little office where the volunteers are located directly by the front door where the clients come in to get the help that they need. Across from the office is a little kitchen, where they stack the grocery sacks and extra items they have for that day that they dole out until their gone. It’s here I really get to meet the other volunteers. Felix is in his late twenties; early thirties and is volunteering in his extra time after selling his business. He tells me about how he recently just got back from Florence where he was for four months learning to speak the language and visiting relatives. Ms. Gloria starts asking Felix about how to make pasta because according to her she needed to ask an Italian. Ms. Gloria and Ms. Melinda then explain to me about the protocol for working with the people who are in need and come in looking for help. Ms. Gloria then tells me that I’ll help the next clients that come in. As soon as she says the intercom rang and I let the client in. The woman comes in with a suit case which confuses me at first. Is she staying? I thought the shelter was closed? I continue to the small kitchen get her bag ready, the extras we have today are bread and frozen corn. Ms. Melinda takes the bag I readied and gives it to her. The woman opens up the suit case which I discover is empty and she places the bag in and zips it up. She has to use the suit case because she doesn’t have a car and has to walk most places when she’s not taking the bus. This had a resonating effect on me because it caught me so off guard. I noticed this with more people that came in, I would give them there two bags and we would try and accommodate them as best as possible to make it easy to carry what they had. For instance an older gentleman came in and he didn’t have a bus pass or suit case or anything to help him carry his things so when we gave him his groceries he literally just had to walk with them to wherever he was going. I know this is a very small problem when you look at the whole picture of their troubles but still it blows my mind how much I just take for granted. The fact that when I just go grocery shopping the farthest I have to walk is to my car and then I can drive home. I don’t have to worry about long walks on troubled streets not only dealing with actually carrying my groceries but not getting robbed as well.
I see a more clients come through the door and help bag them up, I notice that most of them need little odd and end things that the panty doesn’t carry like bus passes and home supplies. MS. Melinda explains to me how because of food bank shortages that this is the first time they have had meat in a month as well as fresh vegetables. It begins to slow down now, I meet Al, who I believe was the coordinator, was on his way out to do their outreach program. Al tells me how the clients get verified through MIFA and other agencies, how their planning an outreach operation on Nov 7 where they’re going to try and feed 200 families. After that I meet Tony who used to be director of the shelter before it was shut down. He tells me and the volunteers about the new operation for helping veterans find housing and how they’ll be sending clients to the pantry. After that, Ms. Melinda takes me on a tour of the entire house and I realize how truly big the place is. She takes me upstairs and show me at least ten rooms some still with bed frames in it left from the shelter, then she takes me to the basement where there’s the remnants of a game room.
It starts to dawn on me how large the shelter must have been and how many people must have been forced out when they lost their funding. It’s about 1:00, Ms. Gloria begins to shut down the pantry, and we say our goodbyes and I make my way back to my car and leave. As I look back on my experience today to write about it, my mind ponders about the people I saw come into today. What had happened in their lives that had brought them to this situation? Was it just a bad card dealt that bought them on such hard times or just a system that is tilted in the favor of others. It’s really hard to wrap your mind really around it because there so many facets to it. I tried to think about what would be a good reference for what I took in today. When I really thought about it the “Once more into the breach” reference from Henry the V seemed a cool idea. The volunteers at the Pantry like Felix, Melinda, Gloria, Al, and Mary face the insurmountable enemy that is hunger and poverty. As sure as the sun rises and the pantry is open their will be people who need their help, and that can be discouraging in the thought of a never ending line of people in need, but what gives me hope is that I believe there will always be good people like the volunteers at the pantry ready to help those in need. So I say to the volunteers and volunteers to come at the pantry, “Once more into the Breach, Dear friends, once more.”
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