The Boyscouts are collecting food items in my neighborhood today to donate to our local food pantry, Frisco Family Services. I want to help, but I just cleaned out my pantry a couple of weeks ago and drastically changed my shopping habits to not have too much extra food in the house. I realized that I actually accomplished this when I had a friends kids over and I had to cook for 5 people. Most of the things I had to cook would not feed 5 people. As I was going through my pantry this morning, pulling out some things to donate, it hit me.
A flood of memories absorbed my thoughts as I reflected back to a few specific times when I was taught a lesson, yet I didn’t fully learn it until this morning. My first big flashback was Hurricane Andrew. I worked in Miami, and although my home in Ft. Lauderdale wasn’t hit, I knew many people that were homeless after the storm. (It gave me a new appreciation for my one-way 62 mile commute to work) My workplace was demolished. The large retail company I worked for placed me in charge of coordinating relief efforts for their employees, which was approximately 150 families. Other stores from all over Florida donated stuff, the company had it all sent to us in a semi truck. As we opened it in anticipation of receiving some things that were desperately needed, that excitement turned into sadness as we saw the contents of the neatly stacked boxes from inside the truck. It was filled with clothing discards, boxes stuffed with unorganized clothing chaos that looked as though it had been loaded into the boxes with a dump truck. There was very little food or toiletries, the things that were really needed.
Next, were my thoughts of working in the FFS food pantry. I enjoyed this time, and I learned a lot. Although many people gave some great food items, at least once or twice a day we received the bags of very expired “I-finally-cleaned-out-my-pantry” food. I saw food cans that had so much dust on them, we had to wipe it off to see the date stamp. I worked there in 2010 and I saw a bag of food where most had expired in 1994. These donations fill absolutely no need at the food pantry. They cannot give out expired food. When it gets close, or is only right after the expiration, they give it away on the free shelf, that requires no voucher, and is not applied toward their allotted amount. I was afraid to ask what happens to the really old food like that, as I’m sure they have to throw it in the trash, but I just didn’t want to hear that answer. Some things are better left unsaid.
My last thought was how many times I might have donated expired food, feeling good that I’ve helped people in need, yet was basically making life difficult for the volunteers at the food pantry and never helping anyone. I was helping with good intentions, as I think we all do, but I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons. Helping people is not an opportunity to get rid of my expired, unwanted food or to get rid of clothing that’s hideously out of style. Helping should be an opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s life, filling a need they have at one of the lowest periods in their life, in many cases. Yes, others can be blessed by us donating some things we don’t need or want any longer, however the thought process should be that of, “What if I was on the receiving end? Would I like this or want this? Would I need this?” As my friend Amy just said, “Sometimes your trash can also be another person’s trash.”
I filled a bag this morning in a completely different way. It has food that I like and bought for me and my family to eat. It’s not expired, nor is it stuff I don’t like. My minset is this, if I’ve been blessed enough that I can feed my family with no problem, I should pay it forward. I can easily replace this food. Every so often we have, and will do more often, shopped specifically for food and toiletries to donate. I’ve done this in the past to teach my kids about helping people in need, and just how important it is to do it for the right reasons, so how did I miss all the lessons? My bag of food for the Boyscouts is not a big one, but all of the items are current and mostly things I just shopped for last week. Geez, how many other lessons have I chosen to ignore? Maybe I should keep one, dusty, expired can of some sort of gross food so I don’t forget.