For years my family took on the challenge of coordinating the food bank donations for our church. We did this all year-long, but without question the biggest push for food was at Thanksgiving. We put bags in the pews, donated from our local Stop & Shop, with lists taped to them. “Applesauce, cereal, granola bars, oatmeal” read the purple list; “Pasta sauce, pasta, canned veggies” was the yellow list; “Cake mix, frosting, corn bread mix” made the blue. And so it went, until we had a rainbow of lists with shelf-stable foods needed to stock the pantry. When the big donation day came, everybody would lug their grocery bags back to church, lists intact, and we would stuff them into a caravan of cars to haul them up the hill to our food pantry. That’s when the fun of sorting donations began.
My kids, Emma and Christian, became pros at reading expiration dates on food packaging. They learned the codes, where Campbell’s put dates on soup cans, how hard it was to read the dates on glass jars of grape jelly and the trick of picking up the flap on fig newton packaging to find the date tucked inside. The rules were simple; if the date wasn’t in an acceptable rage, it was tossed in the big garbage cans. If the cans were badly dented, out they went. Otherwise, it was off to stock the shelves of our store-style pantry. We all made a game out of date sorting, but it wasn’t the kind of game that made me smile. In fact, in made me sad and aggravated. The game was centered on finding the oldest date that somebody donated. I think our all-time winner was from the early ’90’s, but I would need Emma to verify that for me.
Why would people donate old food? It was a mystery to me but each food drive we saw the same thing happen. Some bags were filled with wonderful items purchased from the store while others had bottles of slim fast from the days when Tommy Lasorda was the spokesperson! Who would want that on their Thanksgiving table? We had learned that people often times used the food drive to clean out their cabinets, hence the old, yellowed jello box that would pop up under a fresh box of Cheerios. My husband Michael always told me to be grateful that people did their best, and if I could please stop complaining and get back to work, that would be great because these bags won’t empty themselves. He was right on both counts. We had work to do and I needed to have gratitude for the gifts that were given.
Those food pantry days have always stuck with me for a few reasons. First, I always make sure that when I donate anything from food to clothing that it is in tip-top shape and will give a sense of worth to the person receiving my gifts. Second, I remember that people are hungry year round. All. The. Time. Food insecurity doesn’t just arrive in time for the rest of us to feel generous enough to donate as part of our holiday tradition. It is a real issue that 40 million Americans face each year. Third, Luke 6:38 reminds us that when we give of ourselves we will receive. There are numerous reflections on this in the entire biblical library, with the most profound being that Christ gave his life for us and therefore we should be willing to give of ourselves to others. So as we approach this year’s food drive, remember to give of yourself in a way that you would want others to give to you if, by God’s will, you are the one who ends up in need. And maybe instead of just dropping food off, you can take time to bring love to those who will be eating it. After all, love is the greatest food of all.