My sister’s employer has a community board setup on their team website to encourage employees to volunteer in their communities.  The Eastern Shore Community Chapel Pantry was listed, and this was her 3rd time volunteering for them and my first. The Chapel Pantry has operated for some time, but it was expanded during the pandemic with help from the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia. Each week, they put together groceries for people in need (450 this week but varies depending on donations). 

I met my sister there at 9:30 AM, and there were already cars queued up and waiting–it doesn’t start until Noon. I was surprised at all the logistics for preparing the food for distribution.

Bags prepared Thursday/Friday.
  • Thur/Fri before, volunteers bagged up the groceries. (They use branded bags if they have them, and paper bags when they run out. They also appreciate empty egg cartons and paper bags.).
  • On distribution day, the bags are taken out on carts and lined up on the tables for distribution.
  • Line the coolers with the ice packs from the freezer (reused each week).
  • Move cartons of milk from the boxes and put into coolers.
  • Breakdown cardboard boxes and take to the dumpster.
  • Sort through the eggs (some are broken or in large quantities) and create individual dozens to store in the refrigerator. On Saturday, move eggs from the catering fridge to the crates to go outside. (No food can sit on the ground/floor, per Food Bank rules.)
  • Unstack pallets of food donated from different grocery stores – cases from Food Lion, Chobani, etc. Move that food inside for the next time they put bags together. 

When one of the vehicles pulls around the circle to pickup, they get a bag of groceries, fresh vegetables, eggs, milk, and meat. All of this has to be carried to their car with social distancing. Some recipients have shown up on a bike or on foot from a local bus route.

My jeans and a long-sleeve shirt proved too hot for me that day, but my sister stayed until early afternoon. Volunteers show up for different shifts – mornings are dedicated to prep, more volunteers show up closer to Noon to help carry the food to the cars.

The coordinator has a huge job from her small office in the back of the church (picking up food throughout the week, donations being dropped off, coordinating volunteers, signage, announcements, food storage, etc.). Checklists would definitely help.

The most important aspect is getting the food to people who need it – and they deliver on that promise. The dichotomy of so many families waiting in line for the basic food staples against the frenzy of Christmas shopping during a pandemic is pretty disconcerting.