The following post was written by a local college student attending American River Collge. She was assigned to write an observation-based paper for an English writing course. Enjoy her first impression of a food distribution at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.
a chilly February morning. The ground is still glistening from last night’s rain.
As I drive towards my destination, my mind wonders about what I might see
there. I am on my way to North Metro Church of Christ, one of ten food distribution
sites of Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services (SFBFS). I’ve never been to a
food distribution, but I imagine a long line of people waiting behind a large
box truck for a handout of cheese blocks and dried beans.
already passed it once, I arrive at the church. It is set back from the road on
a large plot of land surrounded by a chain link fence. I pull my car through a
narrow gate and head to the parking lot on the right. All of the parking spaces
are full. I dead end into a line of people so long they flow out a side
entrance of the church parking lot. I check the clock. It is only 10:30 am. The
distribution doesn’t start until 11:00 am. A man wearing a small tank of
oxygen, like a necklace around his neck, is walking away from the line. Carefully,
I back my car up, turn around, and drive around to the other side of the church
looking for a place to park. This side isn’t quite so full. I pull into a
space, hop out of my car, grab a sweatshirt, and make my way to the back lot of
the church not sure I’m prepared for what I am about to see.
I approach, my ears are greeted with the sounds of Stevie Wonder singing
“Higher Ground.” I turn the corner to
find a bustling of activity. Children are jumping in puddles, several volunteers
are sorting through bins of food, and booths are being neatly arranged under
blue tent canopies. There are about one hundred or so people hanging out in
white folding chairs in front of the booths. It looks like a small community
fair, not at all like the cold, impersonal event I had imagined. There are box
trucks, but they are being unloaded and the food set out on tables, much like a
the help of a volunteer, I find the Food Program Director, Erik Kintzel, who
shows me around the distribution site. Erik tells me that they will serve
around 175 households on this particular day, close to 500 people. Each
household will be given roughly 30 pounds of food: five pounds of chicken, a
bag of potatoes, two bags of canned food, pears, apples, oranges, chard, bread,
and much more. Under the food distribution tables are boxes labeled Capay
Organic Farms. Some of the food provided is donated by individuals, some
purchased at discounted rates by SFBFS, but much of the produce comes from
local organic farms.
We make our way
towards the long line in front while Erik explains the registration process.
“This is the only time clients will stand in line,” he tells me. “After they go
through registration, they can sit down.” He points to the folding chairs
located behind registration. Many have already gone through the registration
process and are sitting comfortably in the chairs. Some of the clients are
older and wouldn’t do well standing in yet another line waiting for food.
Pointing to the registration line Erik says, “That breaks my heart. I wish we
could eliminate the need for that line, but for now…” He goes on to explain
that food used to be distributed through a window at the SFBFS location in Oak
Park. People would stand in long lines outside, and make their through a cold
hallway, until they reached a window where someone would hand them food. A lot
of care and effort has gone into moving away from that cold and impersonal
format to a more dignified and friendly approach.
continue the tour, and I am drawn to a table lined with colorful baskets and
orange laminated cards. In the baskets are examples of the different types of
fruits and vegetables people will receive; fresh chard, acorn squash, and
butternut squash are just a few of the items displayed. The laminated orange
placards identify the fruit or vegetable, give the health benefits, ways to
prepare, and information on how to store the item. Handouts with recipes for
some of the items can be found on the next table. People aren’t just given food;
they are equipped with recipes and preparation techniques to empower them to
use the foods they are given.
is just about time for the distribution to begin, and volunteers huddle for a
few motivational words from Erik. There are about forty volunteers today;
thirty-three of them are sixth graders from s local elementary school. Erik
encourages the kids to hand out a fruit or vegetable that they like and stay
away from the ones they don’t. He wants them to be proud of what they are
doing, to smile, and to interact with those to whom they are handing out food. He also tells them to have fun. After
speaking to the volunteers, Erik heads to the microphone to address the
clients. He asks them enthusiastically if they are ready to begin. Again, it
feels more like a fun family event than an emergency food distribution.
time to begin, but rather than lining up, clients are called by number. After
hearing their number, clients check in and head over to gather their food. It
is obvious that some have received food before. They come prepared with rolling
basket carts. Others are less prepared, seemingly overwhelmed by the amount of
food they are about to receive. With or without a basket, most show up with a
smile. Number after number is called and people come to claim their food. Music
plays the entire time and some of the clients dance their way to pick up their
items. An older client, wearing a USAF cap, jokingly repeats the numbers and
invites people to, “Come on down!” Price
is Right style. When his number is called, he cries one last time, “Come on
down!” then makes his way, gathering his items, shaking the hand of each
volunteer and thanking them with a warm and sincere smile.
now more than an hour into the food distribution, and a Michael Jackson song plays.
Two of the sixth grade boys moon-walk their way to hand out food and sing along
with loud bursts of, “Hee, hee.” These kids are clearly having fun. With less
than an hour left of the scheduled distribution time, the line for registration
has dwindled down to around a handful of people. The crowd waiting in the
folding chairs is still quite large, although they’ve already made their way to
number 104. I think Erik may have slightly underestimated the expected turn out
that unfriendly image of a World War II style food rationing erased from my
mind, I make my way back to my car. Three of the sixth grade boys have just
helped a woman carry her food to her car and are racing to be the first to get
back to their volunteer duties. I smile at their enthusiasm as I get into my
car and head home, hungry and grateful for the pantry full of food that awaits
The author returned as a volunteer shortly after attending her first distribution as an observer.