On Friday, the man ahead of me in the food line began regaling a fellow queuer with stories of the local food bank’s largesse the day before. “They were giving out huge packages of ribs and even hamburger!” he reported. Having been there, I felt sufficiently knowledgeable to jump into the conversation. I saw those frozen pork ribs, I said, but none were offered to me. I guess I don’t have a big enough family. I didn’t see any hamburger, though, I added. Oh, you must have gotten one of those little packages of sausages then, he replied. Actually, no, I responded. We got a frozen chicken instead.
I haven’t seen much sharing of food at the government and charitable food distributions I’ve been attending. Considering the warnings printed on the food boxes, I can only imagine that the powers that be wouldn’t look too kindly on recipients trading their cans of carrots for frijoles or their chicken for beef like third graders swapping an egg salad sandwich for a PB&J. But what does get shared is even more valuable than the food itself: Information.
It’s not always the easiest thing to learn where and when to go stand on line and what you’re likely to get if you do. I received my initial information from the bi-county food bank, but there are things they don’t tell you. And probably a few things they don’t even know. Keeping your ears open for snippets of conversation while you’re standing in line for hours is where you get the real skinny, the underground intel.
And so it was that, while waiting for the trucks to arrive at the USDA food distribution, I overheard a conversation about yet another handout that was to occur that very day, at 5 p.m. at a local church. When I got home, I mentioned the name of the church and asked Pastor Mom whether she had ever heard of it. She had, but I really wasn’t sure that I had gotten the name right. Frankly, I didn’t trust myself very much on this one. Who gives away food on a Friday evening?
I looked up the church online and tried calling them several times. No answer. Leave a message for the pastor. Beep!
As the location is only about two miles from home, my wife suggested that it might be worthwhile to go over there and see whether anything was going on. When we arrived, we could see that some type of line was forming. I got on the end of it and soon learned that this was the bread line. Not in the traditional sense, as in a bread line where the poor can receive a hot meal, but the bread line for real — the place where they hand out, well, bread.
My mother always taught me that bread was filler, the way to extend a home-cooked meal cheaply and the way that restaurants fill you up so that they can serve smaller entrée portions. Well, bread may be cheap, but it’s not free. You may line up for free peanut butter, free rice and free cans of beans, but you don’t often see bread on that menu. Unless you come here, that is.
This place was bread heaven! And fast, too. Walking down a path from the parking lot to the side entrance of the church, I found the line moving right along. Within five minutes, I had reached the worker standing in the doorway. He handed me a tied-up plastic bag containing I knew not what (it turned out to be cartons of yogurt), then reached back and loaded up my arms with a package of bite-size strudel and another of glazed donuts. I knew my wife would be happy. She has been craving donuts lately.
I noticed that some of the people ahead of me had walked away with small sheet cakes covered in white frosting. I suppose the blank tops of those cakes had been destined for the Bakery Department to pipe “Happy Birthday Irma” onto in pink and green script, but never made it that far.
I thanked the church volunteer and began walking back to the car when another helpful worker called out to me. Hey, he said, go over to the tables and get some bread! What I thought was a staging area for the workers turned out to be tables loaded down with items that were free for the taking. With my arms already full, I had to call for backup.
I texted my wife, who walked over from the car and relieved me of my packages. I then began to peruse the contents of the many long tables set out on the grass toward the rear of the church. A few of them were staffed, but most were not.
At one end were boxes of bananas. Just like the bananas at all the other food distributions, these were brownish. Pass. I’m in no position to be picky, but neither my wife nor I can tolerate mushy bananas.
At the bread tables, I picked up a package of 24 dinner rolls, another of 24 sandwich rolls, some pita bread, a bag containing two long loaves of soft French bread, a package of six bagels and a loaf of wheat bread. Other than at a supermarket, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many bread products in one place. I was able to pick and choose, checking the ingredients for items that contained neither eggs nor dairy. I found plenty that fit the bill.
So what’s the catch? This was not day-old bread. This was days old bread. Most of it appeared to be castoffs from Save Mart and FoodMaxx. The freshest items were four days past their expiration dates. The majority of the bread, however, was eleven days past expiration. And there were even a few items that were three to four weeks past expiration. I checked everything for mold and found none, testament to the quantity of deadly poisons, er, “preservatives” that the manufacturers use.
Still, I knew that at this stage, my bread haul would likely turn green faster than I could say “calcium propionate” if I didn’t get it into the freezer post haste. The small freezer attached to the refrigerator in the parsonage doesn’t hold much and was already pretty full, thanks to the turkey and chicken we had received earlier in the week. There is another combination refrigerator-freezer out in the church fellowship hall, and that’s where we deposited most of the bread that we brought home.
By unfortunate happenstance, the fellowship hall refrigerator-freezer broke down the very next day. Everything started to thaw. The meat that was out there we brought back to the parsonage and stuffed into our kitchen freezer. We began the process of giving most of the bread away. What remained went in the trash.
I held onto the two loaves of French bread, some of which I ate with margarine and some of which I turned into sandwiches over the weekend. My wife and Pastor Mom tried small slices, but didn’t like it at all. Well, what can I say? Giveaway bread is not going to be fresh. It is what it is and I plan to continue eating it until it is gone or the mold spots begin to appear, whichever comes first.
Oh, and we ended up throwing away the glazed donuts. My wife reports that they were totally stale.