One afternoon a man walked through the front doors at the Food Bank. My first thought was he came to volunteer or maybe he was dropping off a donation since he seemed like it was his first time at the Food Bank. He shyly approached the front reception desk and didn’t say a word. I welcomed him and asked how I could help. He was silent and unwilling to make eye contact. I stood up from behind the reception desk and walked over to him to ask again if he needed something.
Looking down at his hands, he whispered that he needed food. He was barely able to speak, trying to choke back tears. His voice was shaky and he seemed ashamed. He kept looking at his hands and said “This is hard, very hard. I have kids and I can’t feed them.”
With nothing better to say I pathetically tried to comfort him by saying, “It’s okay.” He lifted his head and looked me square in the face and replied “No. No it isn’t okay.”
In that moment I felt a surge of shame and anger pour over me. Not at him, but with him, for him and his family. He was right, it’s not okay.
Since much of our food the Food Bank distributes is funneled through hundreds of agencies and programs across the state, I provided him an extensive list of food pantries and highlighted the ones closest to where he was living.
He walked out and that’s where my story ends. But I know that’s not where his story ended. Seeing his discomfort, I know he is going to have to relive that shame and embarrassment over again until he can get back on his feet again. But yet, he is willing to do it; must do it because his kids are hungry.
I think about that moment every time someone walks in the door here at Roadrunner Food Bank. I remind myself to not say, “It’s okay” to anyone asking for help anymore. I don’t try to diminish the situation or make things seem better than they are. Because it’s not okay, hunger is never okay.
Kristin Schuetz is the Donor Services and Database Manager at Roadrunner Food Bank.