The economy is suffering and as a result more families than ever are turning to food pantries for help, especially as the holidays approach. Food pantries, however, are in a Catch-22. The need is far greater than normal (whatever that is), but donations are down significantly. And as a result, food pantries aren't able to provide assistance to as all families.
Donating to food pantries isn't just something I write about like a broken record. It's actually personal to me.
Shortly after my parents divorced when I was 12, my mom was unemployed and studying to pass the real estate test and earn her real estate license. We had no money. Child support payments from my dad were sporadic and there was no alimony. Truly, we had no money. Rather than ask my grandmother for money, my mom applied for food stamps and signed my brother and me up for the free lunch program at school. I remember I was mortified. I was terrified my friends would find out and no longer be my friends. In junior high, image was everything. I even had to work as a runner on picture day at school that year in order to get free school pictures.
My most vivid memory of that year, however, was going to the food pantry with my mom to pick up donated food so that we'd have a Thanksgiving dinner. I didn't want to go, but my mom made me. And almost 25 years later, I'm still grateful she did.
A few weeks later, we went back to pick up donated food and gifts for Christmas.
My brother and I were two of the kids on the giving tree that year. I was in 8th grade, but whomever got my name must have misunderstood because I received underwear for an 8 year old as my donated Christmas present. The look on my mom's face on that Christmas morning as I opened my present meant for a little girl, not a teenager, was one of the saddest looks I've ever seen. I could tell she felt broken, but she tried to hide it. No parent wants to feel like they've failed their children and I know that's how she felt.
Although I was momentarily disappointed at having received essentially nothing for Christmas that year, I learned the value of compassion and helping others. It was more important that someone had generously given than what they gave. And I knew that it was more important that we still had a home, had food on the table, and were together than whether I received any presents.
We only spent a year or so on food stamps and I only remember that one holiday season receiving donated food and gifts (although there may have been another year), but the memories of that year depending on the kindness of strangers will never leave me. I know it's made me more compassionate and less judgemental of those on hard times. And each year, no matter what, I always donate to my local food pantry and giving tree.
So please please give to your local food pantry, even though you may be struggling. The smallest donation will make a huge difference. You may never know the lives you will touch, but I assure you that your act of kindness will change the life of someone. It changed mine.