I don't know what it feels like to go hungry. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that had enough—more than enough—and have been fortunate enough as an adult to never have to wonder more about my next meal than what work I'd have to do to prepare it. The same then is true for Calvin. He knows his dad goes to work to pay for our family's expenses, and he knows that I plan meals carefully so as not to waste food, and that some foods are considered "splurges", expenses we won't incur very often. And I'm glad—very, very glad—that so far in life he has not had to worry about getting enough food, but I would like him to know more about the reality of our world—that his experience is not actually the norm, that many kids don't get to make "wish lists" as part of a weekly shopping list, that still others don't get to make lists at all, and that the least fortunate sometimes don't even know when their next meal will come.
We have a wonderful assistance program in our area that collects unused food from a variety of sources in order to redistribute it to areas of the greatest need. Food Gatherers is an award-winning program, and their logo is a familiar sight around the city. Our first more intimate understanding of the group came through my dad, who upon retiring started volunteering with them a few times a week. He rides out on the trucks to pick up pallets of unwanted foods from groceries and restaurants. The foods then go back to a warehouse where they are sorted to be delivered to food banks around the area, and sometimes he delivers those pallets as well. Thanks to my parents, we've also been able to attend their annual fundraising picnics. I'm so pleased that Calvin both knows that his grandpa volunteers there and that he gets to hear stories and details about the group.
Then last week we got the opportunity to go volunteer at the warehouse site with our homeschoolers field trip club. Kids eight years and older were welcome to attend, and our group assembled about twenty volunteers for the afternoon. A Food Gatherers representative (educator?) started us out with a brief info meeting in their conference room where a lot of numbers (pounds upon pounds of food!) were tossed at us, and we got a sort of foggy idea of what a large operation it really is. Then we got a tour of the warehouse, from the dry good shelves, to the freezer, to Princess Di (the "digester" that breaks down compost into fluids), before ending up in the "food rescue" room for the afternoon. There we were put to work going through cartons of donated produce, separating the good from the bad before it was to go back out for distribution. It was fascinating, and it felt good, wholesome even, to do something to help such a noble cause, though I think the kids' favorite part of the day was feeding Princess Di.
In the end, the few hours we put in that afternoon ultimately made very little difference for the hungry people living even in our small area. I struggle often with reconciling the prodigious stature of the world's problems compared with the tiny amount of help I'm able to give. But those few hours did do something else. They started a young boy, and probably myself, thinking more clearly about the reality—the actual physical nature—of food as a need, but not a given. And those few hours we spent might also have started him thinking about the physical reality of being able to do something—anything—to help. Plus now he knows that there are such things as digesters that can turn anything organic into sludge.