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What It's Like to Wait in Line for Free Food for the Needy

With 2 of her own, Denise remarried and brought 2 children from her husband together to explore what it means to be a blended family.

Feeding your family

Feeding your family

Making Ends Meet

Waiting in line for food, I hear people talking. Some sound proud, some ashamed to be here. Some are confident about tomorrow; others resigned to their dejected fated. For two hours we wait, keeping a 6-foot social distance and most with facemasks. A small community of needy from all walks of life, and we wait. They may have been affluent last month but this month everything has changed. Some are professional needy, getting by year after year by waiting in these food distribution lines. Eliminating $200 or more from the food budget makes it possible to pay the ever-increasing rents. It has become a way of life for many of us. Others have never been here before and don’t know how it works.

A screenshot of this months food distribution calendar for the Central Valley Food Bank

A screenshot of this months food distribution calendar for the Central Valley Food Bank

Where To Look

If you have access to the Internet, you can find a number of places, many of them are churches, where food is distributed on a monthly or bimonthly basis. USDA commodities from local farms and produce subsidize many of these places. Some give outdated food or close to expiring food from local markets, such as bouquets of flowers, milk, cheese, produce, cut salads, and even sandwiches. Google Food Commodities or Food Distribution. My city has a calendar and a listing based on miles from my address. In that way, I can choose where to go within a one or two-mile parameter of my home. If you don’t have access to the Internet, try asking at your local library or call the City or County Community Services.

Oranges and apples from this month's food distribution

Oranges and apples from this month's food distribution

What It Is Like

Elderly men and women lay in the grass under a tree, while the 2-year-old toddler chases his 4-year-old sibling around the hedges and parking lot. Mothers try in vain to keep the babies calm and sated while ordering siblings to stay near. A white-haired bent-over man argues politics with his younger friend over the screams of a nearby infant. Two middle-aged women discuss religion and the provision of a good God. And the waves of people, young and old, with assorted bags and carts, keep coming.


“If we can conquer space, we can conquer childhood hunger.”

— Buzz Aldrin

My Turn Comes

The time finally comes. The faithful church workers have set up the tables with boxes and bags of USDA commodities 6 feet apart and are ready to start calling numbers. The numbers were given our hours ago and because I was here so early I got number 42. Those who have come only one hour ago have to wait longer, with a number like 150. This particular church feeds 200 to 300 people every other week. With the current situation, many more have been coming than usually do. The newbies don’t know how it works and have to be given directions. The anticipation builds. What will we be getting this time? Last time we got bags of lemons and apples, bunches of asparagus and bags of beans and rice. We never know ahead of time. We take what we can get... and we are grateful for it. I fold up my chair and return it to the car to prepare.

Finally, my number is called and I step up to the line, 6 feet behind the white-haired lady ahead of me. We have both brought little rolling carts to carry our food back to the car. It is too heavy to carry in our arms most of the time. Slowly we step up to the tables as the persons ahead move on to the next one. They don’t ask our income or proof of residence. They only want to know how many in the family. The sweet men, women, and teens are wearing masks as they move the food along. They have volunteered to be here to feed the poor and support the needy. I say another silent prayer asking God to bless them for their sacrifice of time and effort, along with the risk of exposure, all for us.

The Pandemic Changes Things

They used to hand us cans and bags. Now they have bagged up the canned food and the vegetables and place them into our carts without touching us. It is really very efficient. I can see through the bags that I am getting 2 bags of oranges, 2 bags of Granny Smith apples, (oh I see apple pie in the future), 2 bags of canned food I will examine when I get home, a giant bag of carrots, a giant bag of pickling cucumbers (I see dill pickles and pickle relish in my future), a giant bag cherry tomatoes, a giant bag of purple seedless grapes. It is so heavy I can hardly get my cart to roll but I am singing God’s praises all the way back to my car. When you are a vegan, the vegetables and fruits are so important, and when times get hard and money is scarce, I am often left with beans and rice for weeks. I’m so happy. I will be making carrot cake, carrot chips, coleslaw, carrot sticks, carrot salad with cherry tomatoes, and homemade sun-dried tomatoes (in my oven) with grapes or oranges for dessert.

These are hard times for many people but it seems the poor have less than nothing. If I had a plot of land I would be growing my own veggies, but I have no access to land. Sometimes I go out to the strip of vacant land near my apartment and forage for wild greens: miner’s lettuce, dock, and mallow. But the pickings are few and everything will be mowed under soon. We are not in the long lines because we want to be here or because we are lazy. It is necessary to make ends meet, now more than ever. I am grateful. I can now pay the rent and have food in my refrigerator. We will be okay this month. Next month we will have to see what comes.

Final Thoughts

Have you ever had to wait in a food distribution line for commodities? What was it like? Would you be ashamed to have to do it? I feel sad at times that it has come to this but I see I am not alone. There is no shame in being needy. There is more shame in being rich and greedy and uncompassionate toward the less fortunate. What do you think?

Comments

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on August 02, 2020:

It's sad that too many people think that being poor is some sort of character defect. The reality is that many economic forces come together to throw people into poverty and keep them there. Right now, is the perfect storm, though our system has been forcing people downward for the past 30 years and destroying our middle class.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 27, 2020:

Thanks, Peggy. I think our metal is being put through the fire of testing and hopefully what is left is something of real substance in each of us.

Blessings,

Denise

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 27, 2020:

Hi Denise,

There are many such efforts in our area also where food and even masks are handed out to anyone who needs it. Most of the places are drive through areas where the items are placed in the vehicles with no contact measures in place.

With school opening delays, many families will have to rely upon free food distribution for an even longer amount of time.

Blessings to everyone who needs food, and to those who give of their time to make it happen. You are so right in saying the following: "It will show us all what we are made of to get through this thing to the other side."

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 26, 2020:

Peggy Woods,

I feel your compassionate heart, my friend. These are trying times. I am amazed at the number of families being reached with boxes of food every week now. The pantry that was run by the local university used to shut down for the summer months because school was out and it was run by volunteers from the school. Now this year they are still going on per week all through the summer. They used to give a large box of food to 150 families locally each week, now they serve no less than 350 each week and that number keeps growing. I only go when we really have no other means because, to me, it is taking food from people who need it if I go when we have plenty. It will show us all what we are made of to get through this thing to the other side. Stay safe, my friend.

Blessings,

Denise

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 26, 2020:

You are correct in writing that "there is no shame in being needy." More people than ever are facing that reality in this pandemic. Many businesses are closing, and many of those jobs are disappearing forever. How our country will cope with the new reality will showcase those who are compassionate and others who only care about themselves.

I volunteered for many years in an assisstance ministry as a counselor. After documenting a crisis, we could help with paying some bills, handing out donated clothing, household goods, and food. I will never forget helping a family out to their car with some groceries one day. A box of cereal was showing over the top of the bag. A young boy excitedly said to his mother..."Look mommy! Cereal!" He could not have been more excited than if he had been given a coveted toy.

No one should have to go to bed hungry in this rich country! We need to make smart decisions when it comes to voting. Long-term results of that affect everyone of us, for better, or for worse. Let us pray for everyone as we get through this trying time.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 30, 2020:

Lawrence Hebb,

I've had to rethink a few things too. It would be a disturbing thing indeed if during a global pandemic everything was going on as usual. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on May 29, 2020:

Denise

This was a very humbling hub. We've been in hardship where we lost the house and didn't know where the money for food was going to come from, yet somehow we've always managed to get through.

During this Pandemic we changed the way we did a few things and have been stunned to realize our pantry has never been so full (we started doing a thing called click and collect where you order online and pick up at a set time) it resulted in us actually thinking through what we needed.

As i said before, thus was a very humbling hub.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 04, 2020:

Diana Carol Abrahamson,

I know you are right about that. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Blessings,

Denise

Diana Carol Abrahamson from Somerset West on May 04, 2020:

That sounds very handy to me. Seems the world over, is on the same page xD

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 04, 2020:

Diana Carol Abrahamson,

I do too. It is hard for many people. Thanks for commenting and caring.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 04, 2020:

William Kovacic,

Many places are having "drive-by" food distribution where you don't even get out of the car and the volunteers put the food in your trunk for you. I haven't done that yet but I imagine it will soon be the new normal here too. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Diana Carol Abrahamson from Somerset West on May 04, 2020:

Thanks for sharing your post with us. Such difficult times for many people who do not have an income, like they used to. Hope circumstances get better for you, Denise.

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on May 03, 2020:

I guess this is the new normal, Denise. At least for a while, but we'll all get by.Thanks for sharing.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 02, 2020:

Devika Primić,

I appreciate that, my friend. I hope you have everything you need as well. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 02, 2020:

MG Singh,

I am glad the needy are helped too. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 02, 2020:

Linda Crampton,

Thank you. I am well blessed to have such accepting friends. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 02, 2020:

Dora Weithers,

My children were ashamed of the food stamps too when we needed them for a time. Now that we are retired and don't qualify for the food stamps but still are in need. Oh well. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 29, 2020:

Mitara N,

Oh, dear. I'm sorry to hear you don't have similar experiences. It helps me so much to have a little extra. I pray you will be blessed as well. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 29, 2020:

Venkatachari M,

I pray for the volunteers who serve that way the whole time I have to wait in line. It makes me feel good to have prayed for them. They are on the front lines of the pandemic exposure just like nurses and health care professionals. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 29, 2020:

Ann Carr,

I know I'm not alone, a fact punctuated by the growing numbers of people in the lines just in my city. I glad you think what I wrote could be helpful for others. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 29, 2020:

MG Singh,

It is unfortunate in a country where there is such prosperity, that there are so many who are struggling to buy food. It is sad, really. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 29, 2020:

The needy is in many parts of the world and you shouldn't feel ashamed for needing food supplies. Hope you manage and get what you need keep safe.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on April 28, 2020:

I am glad the needy are helped. This is the essence of the message of Lord Krishna. Who ever needs must freely accept it. This also is Karma.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 28, 2020:

There is certainly no shame in being needy. Thank you for sharing your experience, Denise. Best wishes for the future,

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 28, 2020:

I totally agree: " There is no shame in being needy. There is more shame in being rich and greedy and uncompassionate toward the less fortunate." Thanks for sharing from your experience. Haven't been to a distribution center, but my kids not me, were ashamed when I got food stamps. They were young; I'm sure that they are wiser now.

Mitara N from South Africa on April 28, 2020:

I commend you on your write

There is no shame in receiving help, it takes courage. It's good to see their structure in providing and blessing each and everyone in these trying times with no question. Can't say the same for this side of the world.

Thank for sharing a remarkable article and guiding others on the process,

Love and blessings to you

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on April 28, 2020:

Very informative and interesting article. You have described everything in detail about how all that works out. It's really a gruesome excercise as you will be experiencing both anxiety and uneasiness.

I appreciate the people serving the needy families and wish God bless them for their noble acts.

Ann Carr from SW England on April 28, 2020:

There certainly is no shame in being needy. I think it takes some courage to go and stand in the line. I've never needed to do that, thank God, but I have been in the dole queue for unemployment and that made me feel ashamed.

Someone I know had to go to the food bank some time back, when she was out of work for a while. She was taken by a social worker and told to help herself. That's not possible now but those who volunteer to organise, pack and give out the food are worthy of just as much praise as all those others who help the community such a nurses, care workers etc.

It's great that you've treated this in a matter of fact way and given people pointers as to how to go about it.

Ann

MG Singh emge from Singapore on April 27, 2020:

Very interesting post about how life is in America something which I have not observed during my visits there. One is always learning in life.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 27, 2020:

Virginia Allain,

My mom relies on them too. It helps a lot as she gets older and lives on her Social Security alone. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 27, 2020:

Liz Westwood,

It's the same here in the US. More people than before are relying on these food bank distribution sites. Thankfully there are several around town where I don't have to drive far from home and waste gas. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 27, 2020:

DreamerMeg,

I agree it is much better than letting it all go to waste. I'm so happy to have it even when it is so close to the "expiration date". I know that expiration is only a date the stores use to keep the freshest on the shelves. It breaks my heart that so much food is dumped in a country as rich as this one while people are doing without. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 27, 2020:

James A Watkins,

Amen, brother. I thank God for them all every day. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 27, 2020:

Bill Holland,

Thanks, Bill. I like the idea of paying it forward someday. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 27, 2020:

Eric Dierker,

I agree. Pride is a useless thing. The churches here also have "applications" but it is only for information and statistical purposes. That way they know how many are in a household and how much food is needed for each family. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on April 27, 2020:

Lorna Lamon,

I grew up on a farm too and life has taken me to the city where we have no plot of land to work, or I would. I don't feel shame as much as embarrassment for having to go to the charities. I always felt I should be contributing to them instead of utilizing them. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on April 26, 2020:

Your article will help others to see the benefits of a food pantry and maybe get more to donate to one.

My parents used to get the surplus the government handed out to seniors, usually a big block of processed cheese, and a bag of rice. It certainly helped them to have a little more to eat on their Social Security budget.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 26, 2020:

Thanks for sharing your experience so graphically. There's no shame in this at all. You provide a valuable service in getting the message across. In the UK increasing numbers of people depend on food banks. There's one in our village.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on April 26, 2020:

We have a food bank in the small town where I live. It doesn't have weekly handouts. People with no food call a special phone and one of the volunteers delivers food out to them that day or the next. With the coronavirus problem, the local council has been providing food boxes for those who are self isolating or who cannot get out to the shops. The food bank has a list of those who need this help and they deliver it out. Anyone can put their name on the list or someone else can do it for them. It is good to see people willing to volunteer their time to help others get some food and great that firms and farms donate excess food to feed the hungry - so much better than wasting it.

James A Watkins from Chicago on April 26, 2020:

Thank God for His Church and all it does to help the needy all over the world.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2020:

This is the real face of this pandemic. I see it in our town as well. Shame? None whatsover. My parents stood in bread lines during the Great Depression. When you have no options, you reach out your hand...it's as simple as that...and then you pay it forward when you can.

Beautiful message here!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 25, 2020:

Here we dial 211 and press 2 when prompted and we get a rundown of food distribution places and times. A weird thing is that the churches take applications for food. Never saw one turned down so I assume it is to get your info.

I have gone to 4 offering my back and time to help. They keep it in house at churches. Where I volunteer during winter months with our food bank now they just need money. At one church I help unload the truck on Tuesdays. And they insist I take home some food. It is all to the good.

Thanks for this actually uplifting article. The human spirit is so amazing. Especially if we dump the pride.

Lorna Lamon on April 25, 2020:

I was fortunate to have grown up on a farm and so we mainly grew our own food. However, I joined the Red Cross many years ago and have always helped in their food banks. Now more than ever there is a need and there is never any shame in being needy, the only shame is not being compassionate towards those who need help. You have come up with some clever ideas to make what you received last Denise and great advice for those who need and don't know where to go. I pray things will improve soon - take care and stay safe.

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