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Visitor to mobile food pantry wanted to give back

The Community Foundation receives and manages cash donations to the Stock the Shelves drive for the Post-Crescent’s Community Stock the Shelves Fund. Stock the Shelves has raised and granted $2 million since the Community Foundation and The Post-Crescent started partnering on the appeal in the year 2000.

By Patti Habeck
Executive Vice President
Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin
[email protected]

I want to share a story with you from last Friday’s Feeding America mobile food pantry in Appleton, one of many memorable moments that took my breath away.

patti-habeckAt one point, we had more than 175 families waiting in line to receive food from the mobile pantry, which also was promoting the Stock the Shelves campaign. (We served well over 325 families.) It was about an hour into the mobile, and I had already heard the stories of many of the people who turned out. Most were expected — health problems, loss of jobs, mental health concerns, caring for babies or family members with special needs, accidents, injuries, low wages, etc. Each of these is a heartbreaking story, the kind that happen way too often, and often just feel wrong and unfair.

So when a tired looking older man wearing an army veteran hat and using a walker passed by, I assumed his story would be one I knew.  He came up to me and was already in tears by the time he began to talk. I asked him if he was a veteran, and he said yes. I thanked him for his service, and was moved by his emotion.

Tears were rolling down his face, and I reached up to wipe them from his cheek. That’s when the unexpected happened. He reached into his pocket and handed me $50, and began to share his story. He had a tough life, and it became even harder after he left the service. During those years, he knew hunger and relied on the generosity of others more than his pride wanted to. He remembered how many people gave him help so he would have enough food to fill his stomach.

As he handed me the money, he said he didn’t have very much. But he was in a place right now where he didn’t need the help and wanted to give to others who were struggling. I thanked him and hugged him — and it took a long time for him to let go. He was so clearly connected to the reason we were doing what we were.  (Maybe it was me that was having a hard time letting go?)

I don’t know his name, and I don’t know the rest of his story. But I will tell you that this gift — the $50 bill — meant infinitely more to me than much larger gifts we received the week before. It’s not that the larger gifts weren’t important, but this $50 came from someone who moved through and found his way to the other side, and now was giving very deeply of himself, trusting that we would use it to help people also find their way through. It was clear that he didn’t have much, and yet his priority was to help others.

I know people sometimes ask why we do mobile pantries in the middle of a city like Appleton.  It is not as much about the people receiving food, but more about bringing the need into the open and allowing everyone the ability to see, touch and feel the faces of hunger. It’s to bring the hidden hunger out into the open.   To let you the opportunity to hear the stories first hand. And to give those who pass by a chance to see what is normally so unseen. And, in this case, to allow someone to honor his own journey through hunger, and give back and heal. Sometimes “need” is so much more than simply a financial measure.

Thank you so very much for your generosity to Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, but more importantly, to the work that we all do together.  Your support allows this kind of healing to happen, which is so much more than the food that will fill a belly for a week or two. I think everyone who was at the mobile pantry — donors, volunteers, clients and passersby — found some healing and blessing in being together to provide one of the most basic of needs.

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