Giving is Receiving
30 November, 2015
I dug my arms into my sides, anticipating the sharp cold that would cut into my skin at every angle once the door opened. I focused my eyes on the list of names, preparing for the slew of names to be relayed to me. My eyes rose up to the entrance, preparing to greet people with the promise of warm bread, soothing soup, and beautiful music. He entered through the door with skateboard in hand, ripped up jeans, and lively eyes. My eyes froze on his worn out shoes, his torn up socks. Could it be? I focused on his gloves, counting five holes total. I quickly looked up again, noticed his questioning eyebrows, and realized I had missed something that had come out of his mouth earlier. His name. No, that was alright. I knew his name. My eyes met his and all of a sudden I knew I could ask no questions. There was only understanding.
This was the first of many encounters I had at a local food pantry. Because I live in a small town, greeting alumni from my high school, family members of friends, or even neighbors is not uncommon. The shock I experienced was quickly muffled by the realization that this was reality. And this was why I volunteered at a local food pantry. I volunteered not because I needed credits for high school organizations, not because I was subconsciously repenting for things I had done in the past, and not because someone had forced it on to me. I volunteered because there were people who lived less than a mile away from me who did not have the simple privileges I had taken for granted daily.
Working at the food pantry gave me a healthy dose of reality. Surrounded by privilege in school and at home, I was naively unaware of the struggles people encountered in everyday life. I had innocently believed that my town was one that was untouched by the sheer poverty other people faced in large cities. In middle school, I started a project to raise money for Syrian refugees in need of clothing, food, water, and shelter. During my research for this project I was acutely aware of the dangers these adults and children faced every day, but I was also alarmingly blind to what was right in front of my eyes. The extent to which local residents needed help with basic everyday needs was something that unnerved me greatly.
Working at the food pantry not only widened my perspective of the world, but also gave me great hope and desire to achieve my own goals. The frequent visitors to the food pantry bared their souls to me and displayed their raw, open, humanness. They elderly spoke nostalgically of youthful dreams and the young spoke fervently of future desires. They gave me advice, and shared the most secretive of stories. They forced me to be unrelenting when their pride prevented them from asking for help, and they made me smile when they insisted they had a level of expertise on a simple task I had to do. Once, when I was raking leaves a chilly fall evening, a man visiting the food pantry took up a rake and, without a sound, helped me until the task was done. He told me he had done yard work for other people for most of his life, and taught me some of his “tricks” of the trade. I haven’t raked leaves the same way since.
When people ask me why I work at the food pantry, the answer is simple. I am not the one giving, I am the one receiving. My gain is ten times what I give.