By Jean Blish Siers *
Last year I visited one of the soup kitchens that receives fresh produce from us. They serve a hot lunch five days a week in an area that has become part of suburban Charlotte. From I-77, the driver sees shopping centers and shiny new housing developments. But a few blocks from the off ramp, in a quiet and well-kept neighborhood, dozens come daily for food and fellowship.
Volunteers bring plated food to the tables and serve all comers. The day I was there, I saw families with small children, the elderly, folks who looked like they stopped in on their break from work. I saw old and young, white, black and Latino. At the front of the dining area were piles of leftovers, donated by local stores – day-old bread, pre-cut fruit that was ready to age out but still good, bags of unhealthy but filling snacks and crackers. Diners were invited to grab some extra on their way out.
After the dining room cleared, I sat down with Sandy, the dedicated kitchen manager who has run this amazing operation since she retired from her uptown job more than five years ago. She told me stories that both warmed and broke my heart.
The one that has stuck in my head and hasn’t gone away is this one: In the neighborhood are a couple of apartment communities for low-income seniors. Sandy said that on Fridays, she usually sees at least one older lady saving half a biscuit or a piece of sandwich, wrapping it in a napkin at the end of her meal. “I always ask, Can I take that in the kitchen and wrap it up better for you? They let me take it, and I wrap up whatever I can find, whole biscuits, a piece of fruit. They’re always so hungry when they come back on Monday.”
According to a study by AARP, those food insecure seniors (and that’s about 25% of seniors in the Charlotte area) are twice as likely as other seniors to suffer from diabetes; they are five times more likely to suffer from depression; and are far less likely by standard measures to be in either good or excellent health.
I love to be in the fields on a sunny day, picking produce and loading trucks. I love connecting with volunteers and farmers and building relationships. But it’s important always to keep in mind the people we are picking that produce for. Now, when I know a load is going to that kitchen, I picture a woman who could be my mother taking home an extra sweet potato or a fresh cob of corn, something to nourish her over a weekend, and I know why I do my job.
* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator, and a regular contributor to this News & Events blog.