I love how the world ebbs and flows. Often we are reminded of things in our lives and this weekend felt exactly like that. Two years ago, in March 2009, I was writing about my final mitzvah challenge as part of my 1,000th Mitzvah and encouraged others to give either money or food to their local food pantry or donate to The Sunshine Pantry in our community if they lived near me.
While I have been back to the pantry a few times to drop off some food since then, I haven’t done any volunteering or shelving and was reminded yesterday how much I enjoy this part too.
My daughter and I went with a local Jewish youth group to the Sunshine Pantry to volunteer for a few hours. When the founder, Sharon Strauss gave us a tour of her pantry, I realized again that even if we don’t know where our life will take us doing whatever we can to make a difference can sometimes take on a life of it’s own. Sharon, who calls herself “just a Beaverton mom”, started her pantry 29 years ago, as part of a Boy Scout project to feed six local families one December. Slowly and without the vision of what her pantry would eventually become she began to grow her project into a few shelves in her garage, then it took over her entire garage and today it’s housed in a small warehouse pantry that houses a dozen regular refrigerators, plus a commercial sized walk-in and lots of great food to share with more than 500 families a month visiting her pantry. When she began she says that she had no idea where it would go, she just knew she was passionate about helping and feeding others and letting people know that when they were in trouble there were people there to help them so they shouldn’t feel so alone. She welcomes each child and family with open arms, “so the children should feel that they are going to Auntie Sharon’s house and not be embarrassed.” As she toured the youth group around the pantry, she explained how each of the refrigerators has a special name, like Willie Wonka – that houses the special chocolates and candy and Party Harty where she keeps the beautiful collection of birthday cakes for families with special occasions to celebrate. She has even assembled Sniffle Bags so if a family comes in with a sick child they can go home with a bag to help them get better, it includes, jello and soup, tissues and some special surprises for the children.
Sharon’s only requirements for families that visit her pantry is that they bring their own box, since she never has enough and a smile, beyond that she requires no other formal paperwork that families must fill out to receive food.
As the kids organized and shelved the day’s deliveries, I was reminded that a pantry like this requires lots of hands to make sure that the food is collected, organized and available for the needy families. This takes human power, so for every Sharon Strauss who founds a food pantry or another kind of non-profit, many, many other people are needed to help make it run. Never underestimate your effort. Making an effort to donate some of your time or money even if you can’t do it every week makes a difference.
Sharon invited the children to come back again, during their spring break or summer vacation to lend a hand, saying that she has to do this same kind of organizing we did each and every day of the week. Do you have an hour to give once a week or once a month in your community? Even if we aren’t the founders of a food bank, our efforts will be helping another mitzvah maker who needs us and our efforts will be gladly accepted. Two years after my own 1000 Mitzvah project was wrapping up, I think today’s Monday mitzvah is still relevant , so though it’s not a new idea, reminding ourselves never hurts – give to your local food pantry whether it’s your time, your money or your canned goods.