HELP THE FOOD BANKS
Best I’ve felt since we’ve been sheltering in place and keeping our social distance was today, volunteering at the food bank in El Paso.
El Pasoans Fighting Hunger serves a three-county area of more than a million residents. And, as you can imagine, it is overwhelmed right now with demand for food. They are serving far more than the 200,000 people that are typically food insecure in our region.
As food servers, bartenders, small business owners, retail employees and many others find themselves out of work, they are no longer able to make ends meet and are now dependent on our food bank to feed themselves and their families.
I joined a couple dozen volunteers who distributed needed food items – from canned goods to lettuce to apples to pears to milk (my station) – to our fellow El Pasoans who waited in lines TWO MILES long. When they drove to the front of the line, we’d place the items in their trunk, or on the seats of their cars, or the bed of their pickup. They thanked us and the food bank for helping them out. They said dios te bendiga and God bless you.
Sometimes it was just one person in the car, a home health care worker still in her scrubs. Other times it was a whole family, baby in a car seat, older brothers and sisters in the back row, mom and grandmother up front. Dad smiling and waving from one of the back seats.
Beat up cars. Nice cars. Trucks about to fall apart. Ones that looked brand new. Who knows everyone’s story? Lost your job, lost your business, trying to make it work on one income, trying to make it work on no income. But whatever your story, you needed help, and El Paso stepped up.
There was this really nice woman who when she pulled up to my station recognized me and said hello. Despite waiting for an hour or more to get this food she seemed upbeat and grateful. She told me that she had recently been laid off and is also taking care of her sick parents at home. “But once they get better, I’m going to come down here and join you as a volunteer!”
I spent three hours distributing gallons of milk. It was the last station on the line. (There were other volunteers who spent all day there, up to eight hours.) At intake, a volunteer would stick a post-it note that would let us know how many families we were serving at that vehicle. If “1” was on the post-it, you’d get one bag of apples, one head of lettuce, one gallon of milk. If it was a “2” you’d get two, and so on. Vehicles came down both sides of the line, so there were usually two people working each station, one to take the left side, one the right.
Carlos was my partner. He’s in his early 30s, and the proud father of a 10-month old named Dominick Denzel, named after his favorite actor. I teased him that his real reason for volunteering was to get some time out of the house. He works at Sprint, but due to the “shelter in place” order in El Paso, the store he works at is closed and he’s got time on his hands. “I Googled places to volunteer and this came up,” he told me.
We chatted (at a 6 foot+ distance at all times, I promise you) about our kids, about coronavirus, about what it will be like when life gets back to normal. I also got to know Ernesto, who was manning the lettuce station which was next to ours, with other members from his church, La Victoria, on Cotton street. And Neal, a professor at NMSU, who was across the way helping to clean up the trash that some of the stations were producing, talked with me about music and the government class he teaches.
I realized in talking with them that, as much as I’ve loved spending time with our family at home, I missed talking with other people. Seeing other people. I need that in my life. And volunteering, hanging out with Carlos, getting a word in with every car and truck that passed by, exchanging smiles and thumbs up, made me happy.
It was also deeply fulfilling to have some purpose and function in the midst of all of this. So many are doing so much – I think of the health care workers wearing garbage bags because they’ve run out of personal protective equipment at one hospital in New York, or the people stocking the shelves and ringing up our groceries at the store. The first responders and others on the frontlines. Here was something I could do, no matter how small, that would make a difference. I knew the food we were distributing was going to help people.
Amy and our kids volunteered inside the warehouse, packing the boxes (canned food, chile, apple juice, Nerds, crackers, beans) that we were distributing outside and breaking down the boxes that couldn’t be used anymore. They had the harder job in some way because they couldn’t see all of the people we were helping. It was also hard, Henry told me, because he was responsible for putting the candy in the box and he was fighting the temptation to eat some of it.
The CEO of El Pasoans Fighting Hunger, Susan Goodell, gave me a quick tour of the warehouse and shared with me some of the challenges she faces.
“We need more volunteers to pack the boxes for all of the people who are coming in or we won’t be able to keep up with the demand,” she told me. I immediately thought that our commitment to come in once a week was insufficient. We need to be there a few times each week at a minimum.
“And I also need money to buy the food. Every city is having this kind of surge in demand. Which means that when I am bidding on food for El Paso I’m competing against food banks in Chicago, Houston, L.A. – we just don’t have the resources to get our fair share.”
She also mentioned that grocery stores used to share their surplus with her. But now that there is such a run on groceries – and so much unnecessary hoarding – there is no longer the extra canned goods or bread or eggs or milk that she used to be able to depend on.
She doesn’t know when the stimulus legislation, assuming it is passed and signed by the President, will result in the resources she needs to keep up with the demand.
So for now she, and everyone who needs food assistance in El Paso, is depending on us.
Here’s what we can do:
If you live in El Paso and can volunteer for a shift at our food bank, sign up here:
If you want to help the El Paso food bank with a financial contribution, please follow this link:
And if you are looking for a food bank in another part of Texas:
Or another part of the United States:
Our fellow Americans need the help – if you’ve got the time or the capacity to donate (or both) please do what you can.
*Written by Beto O'Rourke | Originally published here: https://bit.ly/2vQFZ90