Yesterday I arrived at S.O.S. at 9 a.m. to start my first morning of real volunteering. They were understaffed, so I was not able to shadow anyone as an actual counselor, so I tried to find other helpful things to do. Until 10, everyone who could unpacked boxes of food onto the shelves in the basement, divided up the food equally into paper bags, carried the bags of food upstairs to the kitchen, transferred small frozen pizzas from the freezer in the basement to the freezer in the kitchen. Then at 10, when food day officially starts, I got kicked out of the kitchen because there was plenty of help there, and sent to try to help with people coming in for food. In case you are curious, one food bag yesterday contained the following: two cans of veggies, a peanut butter, a jelly, two packages of noodles, a box of mac, a box of baking mix, some fruit cups, and two cans of soup. Each person that came in for food also got a flat of yogurt and some frozen pepperoni pizzas. Also, in the entryway there were two tables piled high with fresh produce (farm fresh--still covered with dirt). Anyone could take as much produce as they wanted.
A person wanting food comes in the front door. They are asked by the greeter to present an ID. The greeter then uses the ID to look the person up in the database. Then she fills out a half-slip of paper with the person's basic information on it, including how many times they have gotten food from S.O.S. this year (people are only allowed to get food four times a year). She puts the half slip of paper in a pile and gives the ID back to the person. Now the person waits in the waiting room until a food counselor calls their name. There are three offices for food counselors to use. When a food counselor is done with one "consumer" (this is what S.O.S. calls the people coming in for help--I think it is a somewhat awful term), he/ she gets the next half-slip of paper from the pile and calls that person's name. They go into one of the three private offices and talk to the person about why they've come in, what other help they might need, et cetera. When the food counselor is done with that person, he/she gives that person's food card to the helpers in the kitchen, who prepare that person's food. Some people also need toiletries, diapers, wipes, feminine hygiene products, et cetera, so if we have any of those things on hand, we give them to those in need along with their food. When the kitchen crew is ready, they call the person's name, and give them their food and now the person is done.
If you want the produce, you can just come in and get it, without showing ID or speaking with a food counselor. If you want the other food, you must speak with a food counselor first. After I get some more training, I will get to be one of the food counselors, but yesterday I just hung out in the lobby helping the greeter and talking to people and organizing the produce and trying to get people to take some of it. Yesterday's produce delivery included lots of greens, some romaine, green tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, potatoes, onions, baby bok choy, basil, thyme, little dark purple hot peppers, butternut squash, acorn squash, apples. Most of it was a hard sell. People seemed intimidated by much of it, unsure how to prepare it. I tried to talk them through it, but there were still very few takers for anything besides apples, peppers, and greens.
Two of the happiest parts of my morning: Two mothers came in asking for diapers. They needed sizes 3 and 4. We only had sizes 1 and 2, so they were told there was nothing for them. I took them aside and told them we actually did have size 2 diapers, and did either of them think their baby could squeeze into that size. One mother thought yes, so I went down and got her some diapers and wipes. The other woman's child was 2 and needed size 4. Hey, I thought, that is the size Naomi wears, and I've got some in the car. I asked her if she would like the diapers and wipes from my diaper bag in the car and she said yes. So I went out and got them and she gratefully accepted. It felt so good to give someone something that they really needed. I was so glad I had the diaper bag in the car--so often I forget it! Another happy part of my morning was when I was leaving to go get Naomi from preschool. I saw one of the people who had gotten food trying to load his 6 bags onto his bicycle. He was a young college-aged man who was friends with one of the interns (they were surprised to see each other, but I think it was comforting to him to find her working there). This was the first time he'd ever come in to get food. I offered to load his food into my van and meet him at his house so he wouldn't have to try to carry it on his bike. He accepted, and even offered to pay me for gas. So after I picked up Naomi, we dropped the stuff off and then went home.
I enjoyed my time at S.O.S. so much. I got several people smiling or even laughing with my antics about the produce, and I got to help two or three older people fill out their paperwork because the letters were too small for them to see. One of the oldest people I helped was an African American in her 70s, homeless, no teeth, and she kept calling me "Baby Girl." She had a great sense of humor. When we had to fill out her race on the card, we had a fun joke together about her choosing to be a Pacific Islander and then going "home" to Hawaii. Tomorrow I go back for Day #2. Tomorrow is not a food day, so I will tell you about what a non-food day is like.