Sunday, October 3, 2010

Feeding the Homeless -- A Shift in the Warehouse

A hungry stomach can not hear. ~Jean de la Fontaine, French Poet, 1621-1695

Last Saturday I went with my church to volunteer at the local food bank. It was an eye-opening experience, and one I hope to repeat regularly. You know me, I’m all about food and feeding people, so this kind of thing is right up my alley. A couple dozen of us—singles, couples, and families with kids--showed up for a three-hour stint in the warehouse, inspecting and repacking food for distribution to those in need. Ahead of us, just on their way out the door, was a group of about the same size from Gannon University.

I was startled when, after our group arrived, one of the young men in the Gannon group gave up his chair and rolled it over for me to sit in. Chivalry does still exist in some parts of the world. Unfortunately, instead of taking a moment to appreciate that fact, after I thanked him and he left, I turned to the friend I had arrived with and asked, “Do I look that old?”

I didn’t sit in the chair. I spend most of my time sitting. I had come for a workout…and a workout I got.

Our first assignment was to watch a 13-minute video on how to recognize foods that the Food Bank can not accept. For instance, any food that has been packed in the same box or container with any open cleaning products must be considered contaminated and thrown out. There’s no way the food bank can risk food contamination.

So if you make donations to your local food bank, or supervise collections for food drives and such at your church or school, please, please, please separate the stuff with chemicals in it from the stuff for people to eat, just to be safe, or all of your hard work and good intentions may go for nothing.

Also, as much as they would like to, the Food Bank can not accept any home-canned goods. We all know they taste the best, because they’re made with love, but unless they are commercially sealed, they are a no-go at the Food Bank.

So make sure you give your excess home-canned goods to your family and friends. If you don’t have enough friends, you can send some to me…I love home-canned anything :). I would also be able to use it in my soup (and now baking) ministry for the homeless shelter.

I’m serious. If you have home-canned stuff you want to get rid of, email me at Liana (at) and we’ll work something out…a win-win for everyone.

But back to the Food Bank. Any packages that were open and therefore might have been touched by bugs or rodents (face it, where there’s food, there’s bugs and rodents) had to be thrown out as well. But the good news is, at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwestern Pennsylvania, none of that food goes to waste. It’s all collected in a separate place, and picked up by an Amish farmer, who converts it into slop for his pigs.

On this day, we contributed opened boxes of Fruit Loops, Rice Krispies, and many other brands of breakfast cereal to the (future slop) bin, as well as some fresh bread that was in wrappers that had gotten ripped somewhere along the way.

A lot of things like the cereal comes from stores, still in the manufacturer’s original case lot cartons, which have been damaged in shipping somehow. Either crushed or torn or poked through with the equipment used to move the case lots around. So these damaged case lots are sent to the food bank, where volunteers like us open the case lot cartons, separate the damaged individual boxes of cereal from the ones that are not damaged, inspect the food, repackage what we can—(if only the outer packaging is damaged we can tape it back up—but if there are any holes in the bag that would expose any food, out it goes)—and recombine it into new case lots for the Food Bank to distribute. The extras are then sent to the Food Bank’s internal “grocery store” where individuals can go up and down the aisles and pick up small amounts of different donated foods.

As for the bread, it came from a local commercial bakery, and was still fresh. All we had to do was take it off the racks, inspect the bread for mold and the bags for holes, then repack the inspected bread—buns and loaves of every shape, size, and color—into cartons provided by the Food Bank. Taped shut, and labeled BREAD, they went onto nearby pallets and created fresh case lots for the Food Bank to shrink wrap and distribute.

Before we knew it, our time was up, and our work was done. As the English dramatist John Heywood said, “Many hands make light work.” But the Second Harvest Food Bank has many opportunities for group and family volunteering to help those in need. The Food Bank welcomes children age six and up, and even has child-friendly projects for them to work on. The Food Bank also sponsors specific Family Days, with shifts available between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. and Family Nights, with help needed from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. It’s a fun way to involve the whole family—be it your individual family or your community family. Get a group together and go. All you need to do is call and make your reservation.

Who are those in need? Well, here are some Fast Facts from the Second Harvest Food Bank, the largest non-profit food distribution organization in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Second Harvest solicits, inventories, and distributes donated products to 254 member agencies that directly serve people facing hard times. During fiscal year 2009-2010, Second Harvest distributed 7.7 million pounds of food to 72,600 people in NWPA.

They can’t serve this many people without help from people like you. Three ways you can help are to donate money (for every $1 donation, Second Harvest can obtain $17 worth of food), donate time (hours are available Monday through Saturday…check their website for more information), or you can donate food directly. Second Harvest accepts non-perishable food donations Monday through Saturday.

They then distribute these foods to the people who need it through various member agencies, like churches, food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, kids cafes, child care centers, backpack programs, and senior citizens food programs. The people who benefit from the Second Harvest Food Bank include the homeless, single parents, senior citizens, children, the working poor, the unemployed and underemployed, the disabled, and families in crisis situations.

That’s a lot of people needing food. Is there someone you can help feed today?


Maggie Toussaint said...

what a wonderful way to spend the day. You have such a big heart, Liana!

Connie Arnold said...

That's a terrific thing to do, Liana! Thanks for sharing the tips about donating to the Food Bank.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Wonderful post, Liana. We all need reminding that there are hungry and desperate people in our community. I just finished an article for our church newsletter about donating to one of our local charities that provides food and also job training and summer child care.

Stephanie Burkhart said...

Liana, what a great opportunity. They are having a promotion with Weight Watchers called "lose for good" and you bring in items for the local food bank, the idea being you bring in the amount in pounds what you lost. I have to admit, it's a very good feeling. Thanks so much for sharing with us.