By An Le, IFBA Intern
I visited my first mobile pantry in Exira recently and worked alongside volunteers from the local area and a few folks from the Food Bank of Iowa. As the IFBA intern, I expected to capture a couple of photos of families and individuals who struggled to get by. With this being a mobile pantry, I expected there would be a truck full of food outside. Instead, it was held inside the Exira Rec Center with item-filled tables and boxes against the walls.
As a Food Bank of Iowa employee and I walked into the building, about 60 people were stretched around the room with laundry baskets and large bags, waiting for the distribution to begin. After taking a quick scan of the room, I realized that over half of the receivers were in their 50s or older. Some of the local volunteers were young girls and boys who also needed help from the pantry. When the clock hit 4 p.m., the line moved quickly, and everyone shuffled through in assembly line fashion to get their perishables. Non-perishable items such as toothbrushes were also available. I quickly asked a couple of people for their permission to snap some shots, and then followed them around while they received their items.
After about half an hour, the line slowed down so the volunteers started to pack the rest of the food into a van, leaving whatever was left with the church for others who needed help. Being there for just an hour opened up a different perspective on my initial thoughts about the food pantries and people who needed them.
There was a family at the site who made an effort to help distribute goods every chance they could, giving back to the community and an organization that is still helping them get through a tough time. Even if they weren’t in a good place financially, everyone smiled and acted as if there were nothing wrong in their lives. The atmosphere was very friendly and many were humbled.
I believe it is important for everyone to know that there is no shame in asking for help. Sometimes we do all we can to try and keep food on the table, but it still isn’t enough. Healthy food can get costly and getting fresh vegetables and fruits are, in my mind, a necessity for a strong body and mind. We can’t function properly if we don’t have the right nutrients to fuel us throughout the day.
The food pantries are there for a reason, and I feel as if I speak for everyone when I say that we love what we do and judge no one who needs help. It is with this experience that I gained more appreciation for what the food banks and volunteers do to keep people living a relatively normal, healthier life.