Yesterday, my husband and I drove to Alabama with Oglethorpe University’s Center for Civic Engagement fabulous director, Ms. Tamara Nash, and nine student/alumni/staff volunteers to work at the Montgomery Area Food Bank. We originally wanted to go to the tornado-afflicted areas and move debris but they’re requesting that only professionals come in and assist the rescue efforts. Apparently what’s really needed is help getting food to folks in shelters and temporary housing. So off we went! (while 12 other OU volunteers traveled to Ringgold, Georgia that got slammed by the same tornadoes).
It’s about a 3-hour drive from Atlanta to Montgomery and we left at 7:30 am … crammed in a van with kids whose spirits on these service jaunts are always astonishingly high. Miguel, an alum, brought his harmonica, Cory brought all his political opinions, Phillip from Admissions brought his lovely lilting accent from his home country of Guyana and started a game of memory –and the time flew by. I fell asleep on the pillows we brought and by 10 am (Montgomery time) we arrived at our destination.
Jamie Robards, MAFB Development & Volunteer Coordinator, was our hostess and quickly led us through the warehouse, divided us into two groups and started us on the day’s tasks – which involved going through giant pallets of boxed foods and determining the expiration date on every box or can … then tossing out the expired ones. Luckily, I am exceptionally good at mundane, repetitive tasks and I take them very seriously (I really should have worked on an assembly line) – and everyone in our group was equally obsessive and quick to pitch in. By lunchtime, we had pretty much completed everything they could bring our group – so after munching our way through the PB&Js Tamara and staff had made for us, we combined forces and worked on an actual assembly line. At last!
The sad thing is, we were throwing out so much food – and so much of it was probably completely edible. In fact, when I went home I checked the dozens of canned goods I’ve felt mysteriously compelled to stockpile over the years (causing my friend Mimi to query, ‘’What are you expecting –the apocalypse??) – and I found that an impressive number of them are expired. Yet I blithefully throw them in stews or soups, without a care. And don’t even get me started on the insanity of throwing away expired aspirin and such –what is it going to do, give you a headache??
The “food” we were tossing out (Oreos, Pop Tarts, Lorna Doones, and the venerable Chicken in a Biskit crackers that I haven’t seen for decades) is so packed with preservatives it could probably last until the next millennium with no visible side effects – it’s the very definition of shelf life.
However, I am an obedient volunteer, so I tossed away hundreds of pounds of stuff. I suspect that for legal reasons, food banks can’t pass along expired food – even to people who really need it. Which is a crying shame. Americans now waste about 40% of all the food we produce – food that could feed an estimated 200 million people. All that wasted food isn’t just a horrible irony when 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night … it’s a nightmare of rotting methane production in landfills, a profoundly poor use of freshwater, and a mind-boggling spendthriftlessness (yes, I did make that word up) of the oil and energy used in American agriculture.
But I digress … at the end of yesterday’s work, when we quit at 4 pm to drive the three hours back to Atlanta, we’d managed to go through 35 pallets and sort 17,500 pounds of food … which represented 94.5 hours of work that would have cost the Food Bank $1,672 and two weeks to staff. In all, Jaime told us that our volunteer hours enabled the Montgomery Area Food Bank—that serves 35 counties in the region, including 14 that were affected by the tornadoes – to provide an additional 10,872 pounds of food and supplies to families in need.
Hot, dirty and disgusting, we piled back into the van and felt pretty gosh darned good .. a feeling that was only multiplied when we stopped at Chick-fil-A an hour down the road and gorged on chicken sandwiches, nuggets, fries, and banana pudding, chocolate & strawberry milkshakes (my husband was buying so everybody – except stupid lactose-intolerant me – got one).
A good day. A good feeling (except for the expired food that I sincerely hope is not being tossed) … and a good NIGHT to y’all. It’s raining here after two weeks of total hot drought so I am feeling cozy, comfy and grateful for food, rain and service. Funny how the very things that are good, nourishing and hoped-for can also be the instruments of destruction.
Wishing you peace…