I volunteered to help Lisa man the diaper station, by the front door. A woman from a mental illness organization gave us a talk before we opened, and another explained the logistics of how it works, warning us that it’s a small area that gets congested, many people don’t speak English, and so you have to use gestures and just go with the flow, make sure no one takes more than they should.
I was with my colleagues and watched their faces as we listened to the orientation, and tried to picture what it was going to be like.
They opened the front door and the cold rushed in, and the first of many guests got in line by the computer and produced their ID and food bank cards. If they wanted diapers, they had to produce a birth certificate and be set up in the system. They got one bundle of diapers twice a month, on the diaper days specified on the sign.
I helped them fit the bundle of diapers into their plastic bags or carry-on luggage, which they wheeled through the small room, in a U-shape pattern through each station, starting at Protein, where we offered frozen fish or chicken, then on to Rice, Canned Goods, Dairy, Produce, and last, Dessert.
I stood with my hands in my pockets to keep warm and greeted people as they came in, pointing to Christina at the fish or chicken station, helping them get a bag.
A big guy with a bandanna and pony-tail ran stock back and forth between the adjacent warehouse and the little room, weaving his way through the guests with dairy crates. Someone was saving the plastic six-pack rings from a case of orange soda, to cut up with scissors, but then the box went missing and the guy with the bandanna had a small freak-out; his voice started shaking as he talked about the birds, how the plastic rings kill them, and who threw out the plastic rings without cutting them up? The room got quiet but they were found, and the guy had one of my co-workers cut them into pieces.
As the people filed in I looked at them and tried to imagine their stories, all the different faces and different ages, all that was going on in their heads as they looked around at the others filing through. Many of them were so happy to be there, glad to have their number called and be done waiting outside, glad to have a couple bags of groceries to take home.
I hurried outside to my car when it was time to leave, and didn’t look back at the small mob waiting under a canopy on the street. As I walked to my car, a group of people were running toward me, trying to get there before they closed.
I drove to Costco and loaded up on food: pork chops, fish fillets, chanterelles, a variety of imported cheese, mixed nuts, bottles of wine, a case of beer…and when I got home I filled the fridge and the shelving in our garage, adding a new bag of clementine oranges and realizing there were a few in there still, gone moldy. I put them in the compost but realized a couple were still good, so I made my kids eat them.