My colleagues at Durham Magazine recently joined me at the Durham branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina for a morning of fun volunteer activities. For writers, editors, photographer, art directors, publishers and sales representatives, sorting food is not a part of their daily routine, but certainly something they all were willing to do.
As we waited in the lobby prior to receiving our assignment for the day, one of my co-workers noticed my photo on the wall announcing they were entering the “Dana Lange Volunteer Center” and asked me about it. The honor of having a room named for me is a boring story about being a volunteer board member for years; the real story is what got me interested in helping feed hungry people in the first place.
THE GARBAGE MAN
Thirty years ago – when I was young and energetic – having just one job was not enough for me, so I had a catering business on the side. I always loved feeding people and throwing parties, which made it the perfect way to supplement my income. I was living in Washington, D.C., and I often threw away leftover catering food in my rolling trashcan in the alley behind my garage.
One day, as I was bringing more garbage to the can, I met a man dressed in khakis and a blue blazer who was standing by my bin. “You have the best garbage in all of D.C.,” he said to me. I was a little taken aback by this greeting. Awkwardly my response was, “Thank you.”
Then I took a closer look at him and noticed that his clothes were a little dirty, with strings hanging from the cuffs of his pants. His hair needed to be washed and his nails were filthy, but other than that he looked a lot like my friends and me. I realized that he must be homeless and had been eating from my garbage more than once. In the moment I was unsure of what to do, but I did know that I had a fairly good supply of edible food that I was just throwing away.
“If you want, on trash days I can leave the good food in a box on top of my cart,” I said. “That would be very nice,” he replied. “I really like when there is meat. I don’t get much meat.” All I could manage to say was “OK,” and I watched as he walked down my alley away from me. After he was out of sight, I burst into tears.
I left a box of food every week for the remainder of the years I lived in that house, and it was always gone the next morning. Once, I found a scrap of paper tucked into the lid of my can with “Thanks” scrawled on it. I never saw the man again, but I was certain he was coming by and getting the food.
I knew that this was no way to feed people. Eating leftover food from the garbage was terrible, but leaving a box out in the elements through winter and summer was hardly better – it was just all I could think of when confronted with someone who was really hungry. That is when I became interested in better, safer, more compassionate ways to help people who are food insecure.
‘A BETTER WAY’
When I moved to Durham, Haywood Holderness, the pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, was the board chair of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern N.C., and he taught me that there is a better way. I started volunteering at the Durham branch about 16 years ago, and it is my passion.
The Food Bank is the most efficient and safe way to gather perfectly good food from stores who can’t sell it, farmers who have a surplus or regular people who donate it, and then distribute it to agencies or churches who run soup kitchens or food pantries to feed people in need. What I have learned is that the majority of people who get help with food from the Food Bank are not homeless men, like the one who I first met, but are children, elderly people or people with jobs who don’t make enough to pay rent, buy gas and get food.
Thanks to my co-workers for volunteering and to Durham Magazine for donating a portion of the proceeds from the annual TASTE event – happening April 21-23 – to the Food Bank. Every dollar the Food Bank receives can be turned into $10 worth of food. And thanks to each one of the volunteers who gave nearly 190,000 hours of their time last year. You will probably never know the individuals you help, but know that they are thankful for you.
Want to Help?
The Food Bank of Central and Eastern N.C. is always looking for volunteers to help, whether individually or in groups from schools, business or religious organizations. Contact Chelsey Willetts at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about scheduling a volunteer shift. Click here to support the Food Bank by buying a ticket to the final event in the TASTE 2016 series at Maple View Farm on Saturday, April 23.