Written by MJ Ladera on 11/24/2020
Over the past month, one of the places I have volunteered at is the St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry. At this location, the inside is organized in a manner to look and feel like a small supermarket filled with donated goods. For someone who is food insecure, to be able to shop there, they have to first be screened. They are asked a series of questions about their financial situation or the amount of people in their household, etc. Based on those questions, the person is given a certain amount of points. With these points, they can enter the mini supermarket and “buy” things, such as canned food or hygiene products. Each item has a point value. For example, a can of tomato soup is valued at 1 point while a box of donuts is valued at 3 points. The more the good is not needed but wanted, the higher of a point value it has.
As a volunteer, I have to sort through all the donated food items and stock the shelves with these items. Sorting through the goods is done to not only check the expiration date but also to ensure they are edible. If the food item has not grown any mold or turned rotten but has passed its expiration date by 7 days maximum, then we place them in the front of the building, near the receptionist area. These can range from produce to processed goods like bread and donuts. These items are free for anyone who walks into the building, and they are allowed to take as many items as they’d like.
One October morning, I was backing out of the food pantry parking lot, after having finished my volunteer shift, when I noticed a tall black lady walking down the steps. She had a grocery bag full of food and was holding a clear box of sliced pineapples in one hand, while in the other hand, pinched between her index finger and her thumb, was a large, yellow pineapple slice. I immediately recognized the clear box as one I had placed in the front of the building near the receptionist area. I continued to stare, hoping to see what she would do next with the pineapple. The woman then continued to take a delicious bite from the pineapple slice. I believe this image is etched into my brain because it was one of the most beautiful and saddest events I have ever seen.
The minute the sweet and acidic juices reached her taste buds, her face lit up with the most beautiful smile, filled with joy and satisfaction.
It warmed my heart, but it also broke it. I was happy that she could enjoy some pineapple. Yeah, it was not the freshest box, but who knows when she last had it, let alone some fruit. It really warmed my heart to see her finding happiness in the smallest things in life. However, I was also angry and disappointed seeing this event unfold before my eyes. She was eating edible yet expired food, something that would never be found in any grocery store. No one should have to be eating this type of food, especially when there is enough to feed the whole world and then some. As of last year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that, globally, we have wasted 1.3 billion tons of food. Within the U.S, we discard close to 40 million tons of food yearly. We could easily have given one ton of food to each household that has experienced food insecurity. It is not fair that in a country that has so much to offer, some citizens are still left hungry and wondering where their next meal may come from.