We are all used to measuring distance in miles or feet. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about how we use other gauges—like the wrinkles on our faces, the dollars in our wallets, or the food on our tables—to measure the distance between ourselves and others.

I knew some people in my community might be in danger of going hungry but I found it reassuring to assume that everyone managed to have a full belly at bedtime. Then the Coronavirus pandemic hit and the news began to feature long lines of the newly unemployed waiting for hours to receive a week’s worth of groceries for their families, many of whom were much more used to donating to food drives than benefiting from them.

I called my local food bank and found out their customer base had shot up 30% in a month. In addition, not everyone was able to pick up their groceries either due to lack of mobility, transportation, high-risk status, or all three. People needed food and the food bank needed volunteers who were not at high-risk to deliver it. I hesitated, thinking, I can do this. But should I do this? My spouse is 71 and my mother is 98, way over the age 65 stay-at-home threshold. I’d hate to expose them to the Coronavirus any more than I already do. I’m their primary food provider as well as an essential worker. I finally heard my voice say, “I want to volunteer anyway.”

So now every Tuesday, I set off from the food bank, my car crammed with a dozen boxes of local produce (avocadoes, lemons, and oranges), plus frozen foods, canned goods, bags of potatoes, cartons of eggs, and gallons of milk. Each week my customer list grows, my route takes a little longer, and I keep discovering parts of my town I never knew existed—a world of apartment buildings and senior housing and flights of stairs—so many stairs!  

Each week I get a little stronger as I lug the contents of forty- to fifty-pound boxes up those stairs to my customers’ front doors. I envy the teenagers at the food bank who deftly hoist those boxes like they were filled with Styrofoam pellets. Still, it’s impossible to escape how lucky I am as I place the boxes and bags on the chairs and walkers left for this purpose by the front doors. Two of my customers are on hospice in hospital beds set up in their living rooms. Others can barely get around on their own power. And all qualify for food assistance. 

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

Over the weeks I have come to learn a little more about the folks on my route. Honestly, it’s hard to forge relationships when communication comes through smiles and window waves and voices through screen doors. Still, I have found out that in better times two of my clients worked at the food bank that now serves them. Another is often not at home when I arrive because he is down the street volunteering at his church. 

One woman gives me a small donation for the food bank almost every time I drop off her groceries. Last week it was a dollar. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s all I can afford this week.” I thank her, knowing her donation is her way of giving back, of feeling whole, of being part of the solution to the crisis that we are all facing together. I understand that both she and I are doing the same thing, each in our own way, and the distance shrinks between us.

To learn more about the Fallbrook Food Pantry, please go to fallbrookfoodpantry.org.

For more resources about San Diego Hunger Awareness Month, visit sandiegofoodbank.org/endhunger.

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