As I pulled out my Eddie Bauer down coat this morning, I also grabbed my old down coat from the closet. It’s a warm, black knee length coat with a cozy knit turtle neck collar that almost reaches my ears. It served me through a number of years of cold yard duty when I was teaching. In all honesty, it’s probably warmer than my Eddie coat.
I looked at that coat to decide what to do with it. The knit cuffs and collar are slightly pilled but nothing a fabric shaver couldn’t fix. I would still be wearing it except for one small thing. One of the big, shiny silver snaps on the front of the coat went AWOL last year, prompting me to purchase my new coat.
What does one do with a really cozy coat with a quarter inch hole right at the abdomen?
I live in a world where I can buy myself a new down coat when a snap on my old coat goes missing.
Not everyone lives in a world where they can buy a coat at all.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to occasionally volunteer at a local food pantry in the city. I met so many wonderful people. Their lives are not as easy as mine. The volunteer experience impacted the way I think about physical things.
I don’t know how other food pantries work, but I learned a little about this one. Previously I thought that food pantries only handed out food. That was definitely not the case here.
The pantry was staffed by volunteers and was open two days each week. The two nuns that coordinated it had visited the homes of many of the families on their client list and knew their needs. Some of the clients were homeless.
The sisters also knew pantry inventory and could estimate how many clients would show up on a given day since each family was allowed one visit per month.
People could get help with utility bills by taking a short class teaching them ways to save on utilities. Clients were required to stop by a table and look at a list of jobs that were available in the area.
One day a month there were local podiatry students who helped people with foot issues. Hotels periodically furnished perfectly good used sheets. Volunteers donated hand knit hats and afghans. There were sometimes donations of new children’s shoes.
The list of what individuals and organization donated to this food pantry is surprising.
There were limits as to how many items people could take and the limits were based on various factors including need and item availability.
For example, once when new shoes were available, parents could pick one pair of shoes for every two children they had. Sadly, many families needed shoes for two, three, or four children but the sisters knew that they had to share what was donated among many families.
One of my favorite things about the pantry is that one of the nuns set up a little cooking station outside where she prepared sample dishes using food items that were in good supply. For example, she made zucchini fritters for people to taste during gardening season and passed out recipes. Families waited all year for deer meat to become available at the pantry because sister had taught them how to prepare it.
On the days I volunteered, I always worked in the area where people shopped for clothing and household items. The nuns would do a quick check of inventory and tell us how many women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing items were available to any client that day. The same was true with used shoes and household items. People shopped with the help of volunteers who then bagged the items for them. They were treated like they were in a store but no payment was required.
What was in high demand in the little household store? Plastic food containers, pots and pans, holiday decorations. A woman might take ten minutes to decide whether she would rather have a food storage container or a frying pan. Which did she need more? I won’t lie and tell you that those of us who volunteered sometimes broke the rule and let that woman have two items on one item days. Some of these items that would never sell at some second hand stores near my house are treasures to the people at this food pantry.
This time of year, used coats are in demand.
Sorry if there are three children in your family who need new coats, you only get one today.
Should I put my old coat in the landfill? Hmm. I think some people would be thrilled to get a really warm coat with a missing snap! Maybe I’ll drop it by the food pantry myself and work a while.