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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Amazing Grace, Generosity in Hard Times

Last Saturday was the fall Postal Carriers' Food Drive here in Albuquerque, and maybe all over the country. You know, it's that day that you clean out your cupboards and pantry and put all the canned/packaged/dry foods that you know you'll never eat into a grocery bag and leave it out by the mailbox for your postal carrier to pick up. Or at least that's kind of how I've always looked at it. I look at it quite differently now, after the experience Gail and I had late Saturday afternoon. As we are donors to Roadrunner Foodbank, our local supplier of food to those in need, we receive their newsletter. The most recent letter had a request for volunteers to help out at all our postal stations unloading the trucks as carriers came in from their mornings and afternoons of loading them full of bags of food.
So, we volunteered. The substation to which we were assigned is out behind the airport, in an area we are completely unfamiliar with. But after Saturday, I feel like I know at least some of the people who live in that area. I must add the caveat that this is far from being a wealthy residential area, quite the opposite in fact. We suited up for the cold weather, climbed up on the loading dock, and started unloading bins containing the bags of food. Then we sorted them into three categories and tossed them into huge cardboard bins: cans, glass jars, and dry packages or boxes. There were some subsets, like bags of chips, and loaves of bread, that had their own boxes on the sides so they wouldn't get crushed by heavier boxes or bags of stuff.

The big surprise to us was both the quality and the quantity of food in those bags coming off the postal trucks. These people hadn't just cleaned out their cupboards and gotten rid of the old boring stuff that had been there for a year: they had gone to the regular chain groceries for sure, but they had also gone to CostCo and Whole Foods, Sunflower Market and Keller's, places where they purchased organic peanut butter and pasta sauce, cartons of vegetable juice, Amy's soups, giant bags of organic pastas. There were bags of organic lentils and other legumes, boxes or organic cereals hot and cold, baby food of all kinds.

In short, the world has changed a lot more than I had any idea. More places are carrying organic foods of all sorts, and more people are buying them when they shop. The truly astounding thing is that they are buying them, not just for themselves, but for unknown strangers who can't afford to feed their families organic pasta with organic tomato sauce or make their kids organic peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches. And that this is happening in a time of economic harship unprecedented in most of our lifetimes. I've worried that my bags with cans of organic navy beans, pumpkin, lentil soup and so forth would be simply ignored or cast aside by putative recipients. How wrong I have been. We were so cheered up by the people we were working with, lots of whom brought their young adolescent kids, people of all ethnicities and ages, and by the amount of food we all unpacked and sorted - I've looked at the entire city differently for the past week.

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