Last Thursday we were asked to jump in and volunteer at the Coker food pantry. In addition to regular food distribution, the pantry also planned to give out Thanksgiving Dinners to clients who were pre-qualified to receive them.
I did some schedule-shuffling and made space in the day to join in the efforts. Because my position at the church is more online-related (and inside the office) I do not often jump in and volunteer at the Food Pantry. But last Thursday, I put down my laptop, put on my Coker “Be Love” shirt, dusted off my gray converse shoes, and I made my way to the pantry. I found Shirley Reid and told her “I’m not great at knowing what needs to be done, so tell me where to jump in.” She, along with many other volunteers are strong leaders who know every working detail of the pantry so she put me to work sorting dairy goods. The next thing I knew it was time to begin distributing food. Coker member, Richard Garrett, led us in prayer thanking God that when we are in a position where we have plenty- that God allows us to then pour out to others- that’s what being in the “Body-of-Christ” and Christian community is all about- loving one another.
Once the prayer ended, volunteer assignment roles began, I heard “raise your hand if you’d like to be a cart pusher” and my hand went up. I grabbed one of our newly donated HEB carts (THANK YOU HEB), and got in line. There were various food stations with prepackaged bags of food. First was Thanksgiving sides, then bread, then dairy, fruits, vegetables, snacks, and so on. Each station was set up outside and safely spaced apart. Volunteers, in masks and gloves, were positioned at each station to drop food into our carts (a touchless process for the cart pushers). When my cart was full, I wheeled up to the car line where someone would yell “two carts over here” or “one over here” based on the color coded system of labeling the cars that pulled up. Our clients, who were also in masks, opened their back trunks or asked us to open the back doors so that we could drop food in their cars.
At one SUV, I was placing food inside and I saw a small 4-year old head pop around the corner of the car seat. When her eyes met mine, I said “Oh, I have something you may want to hold- if I put it back here it will get squished, and I think you will like it.” Her eyes lit up when she saw a box of donuts. I handed it to her to hold on her way home and her mom’s eyes filled with happy tears. The little girl said that her and her siblings would be enjoying those for breakfast tomorrow and they were all hoping for donuts. Donuts and goodies were just a perk, the fresh fruits and vegetables created a 30 minute conversation amongst us volunteers on different ways we like to prepare our Brussel Sprouts (with bacon seemed to be the favorite way).
By the time I pushed the cart around about 60 times, my shoulders were getting tired. I asked the husband of long-time volunteer, Ann Ault, how she physically did this week after week, he smirked and said she uses Thursdays as a weight training day (and skips the weights in her workouts on Fridays- wow, I have some things to learn from Ann about fitness & staying young). Towards the end of the morning and into early afternoon, the volunteers lifting the heavy fruit were starting to lift a little slower- but you know what didn’t get tired? The enthusiasm the volunteers had while interacting with our food pantry clients. Even into the early afternoon hours their eyes lit up when they saw familiar faces and my heart was warmed when I heard stories like “the baby is on the way, should be here next week” or “the job I applied for is looking promising” or one of my favorites was a lady who played, prayed, and praised to the “Hallelujah Chorus” all the way through the drive-thru line.
In addition to pre-registered clients, our food pantry accepts emergency situations and has a line for our brothers and sisters who are homeless. One woman I was talking with was filled with such gratitude. She explained that she owns and operates a dry cleaning business from her van. When COVID hit, and people were working from home, her dry cleaning business took a hit. She ended up not being able to pay her apartment rent and she moved into the very van that she operates her dry cleaning business from. The dry cleaning business is picking back up but she, herself, is having to find various shelters to shower in so she can keep her appearances up in order to maintain her business. She’s hopeful that with the uptick in clients she’ll be back in an apartment soon. The food provided helps her allocate her money to her cell phone, gas, and other business expenses so she can continue to grow and get back on her feet. I promised to pray for her as we parted ways. While I’m sure there’s more to her story- I felt blessed to begin to know some of the stories of our pantry clients.
I’m one of the storytellers in the church, our goal is to share stories to invite you into our lives, our hearts, and our church by showing you #RealLifeCoker. As I’m writing this, I simply can not put the “feeling” of being at the Food Pantry into words. The organization, safety, cleanliness, the new commercial grade refrigerator, the volunteers who work tirelessly (and have for years), the presence of the Holy Spirit hovering in the crisp air, the love between each person- it is really something that needs to be experienced. We talk about it often from the pulpit and on social media, but it is really something that you should see for yourself! So, if you are unable to support in person but still would like to be a part of the food pantry efforts please consider donating to Coker so we can continue supporting the needs in our community (donations accepted online at Coker.org/Donate). If you are able to volunteer in-person, consider spending one Thursday volunteering at the food pantry. You can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll put you in touch with those in charge. We hope to see you at the Food Pantry any Thursday except on Thanksgiving Thursday, the pantry will be closed but thanks to Pantry efforts 306+ families (which is over 1200 people) in the San Antonio area will have a Thanksgiving dinner.
A special thank you to HEB for the donation of newly and needed shopping carts, to the San Antonio Food bank, and to our volunteers (I’m afraid to list names as I know some will be left out, but you all have servants hearts and we are forever grateful to you).