It will soon be one year since our food pantry went into “COVID Mode”. Week after week, we show up with 20+ pallets and tables stacked high with bags of food.
Most days start with the panic of “What will we do with all of this if no one shows up this week?” and generally end with “Wow! I can’t believe we went through all that food!”
- We see so many faces.
- We hear so many stories.
- I’d be lying if I said it didn’t start to feel routine every now and then.
…and then I think of Frank.
Frank first came to our pantry late in the fall – nearly 6 months into the pandemic.
I remember the day was extremely busy as the weeks leading up to “Back to School” had been.
- The food pantry line seemed to NEVER end.
- It was unseasonably hot.
- Car #3 of the day broke down at the entrance of our drive thru, but that is another story.
- Delivery trucks showed up later than usual.
- School was back in session, so local street traffic was busier than normal.
It was hard to believe how much LIFE can be packed in a 4-hour chunk of time and one city block.
People seemed irritated, and quite frankly, so did I. This man rolls up in my line. I had never seen him before. But, my first instinct was, “There is no way under the sun this messy car could fit even one bag of groceries in it.”
He rolls down his window and I instinctively smile despite my mask.
“Hi. Welcome to Al Beech. Is this your first time here?” I ask.
“Listen,” he says. “This is going to sound crazy, but I heard you all may be able to help me. My daughter’s boyfriend locked her and her kid out of the house last night, and I’ve suddenly got her and the baby at home. I don’t get paid until Friday. Someone told me you may be able to give me a package of diapers.”
I quickly looked closer at his car. It was literally filled with his daughter’s and grandson’s belongings. A disheveled mess of clothes and shoes and baby items. I all too casually say, “I’m sorry. We no longer have diapers here. I can give you food for the baby. We have lots of fresh bananas and apples.”
As casually and quickly as I turned him down, I watched as any final sense of hope he had faded away. “It’s ok,” he solemnly said. “I just wanted to try to help my little girl out. We don’t need food right now. I just wanted to try to get her diapers. Thanks anyway.”
My heart broke.
As I watched him pull his car forward, my head whispered to my heart, “You’re getting too comfortable hearing these sad stories. He’s just a dad trying to protect his little girl.”
I looked down at my jumbled mess of a clipboard filled with Post-it Notes, donations, sign-in sheets and forms. I looked at the long line of cars behind him – and the line of cars ahead of him – each car filled with their own unique story of how they arrived here at the food pantry.
I suddenly yelled, “STOP!”
His brake lights came on, and I ran up to his window.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said. “Am I going the wrong direction?” I grabbed a bunch of the donated money I had tucked in my clipboard and put it in his hand.
“Go get the diapers,” I said.
He looked at me stunned and instantly his eyes filled with tears. “I don’t want you to get in trouble, ma’am. I will be back Friday to repay you. I promise.”
“Absolutely not,” I said. “But you must promise me you will clean out this car and come back next week for food. This money isn’t from me. This money is from every car in front of you that wants to help in whatever way they can. Go get diapers. Come back for food. Let’s get your daughter back up on her feet.”
“Tell them ‘thank you’,” he said, fighting back tears. “I’ll see you next week.”
Sure enough, Frank cleared out his car and came back eventually. Each time he drives through the line he says, “How’s my guardian angel? I’ll never forget what you did for me that day.” He will stubbornly hand me a few dollars as I insist, he has “paid me back” multiple times over already.
“I know you guys will get it where it needs to go…” he says, and I graciously add his donation to my clipboard stash.
Frank is right.
We will get it where it needs to go.
We will help people at their bottom get back up on their feet.
Local food pantries serve so much more than just food in their communities. We serve opportunities when some people feel like they are out.
Click here to see how you can help us today.