For the last two weeks, I have had the opportunity to participate in data collection through client interviews for The Hunger Study 2014 first hand. I have visited four sites in three counties. I was part of a two-person team that approaches clients as they are visiting a pantry for food assistance and asks them if they would be willing to share their circumstances in the survey.
Most are receptive to help even though some of the questions are rather personal. When they understand that this data will be used in grant writing and to provide data to the public for better understanding of food insecurity, they are willing to answer questions openly.
As I started to explain the directions for the survey to one man, he said he wasn’t able to read. So I told him that I would read the questions to him and would help him complete his response. We were in a cramped noisy area of a small food pantry, but as they say, it is what it is. So we proceeded to get underway. The pantry was crowded and there was a shortage of chairs so I got down on my knees next to him and began to ask him the questions.
We were placed as far from the client traffic as possible, but I was kneeling in the small path for clients just outside the restroom door so lots of adults and children were needing to access the facility and I was blocking easy access. I was afraid I was going to inadvertently trip someone, but thankfully we had no accidents.
As we completed the survey, the man told me how much he appreciated the opportunity to come and receive the friendship of the pantry volunteers and the food assistance they provided. He said he had visited the pantry about four times this year and always looked forward to seeing people. He lives alone and has little interaction with people. He has trouble walking so he doesn’t venture out much. His survey answers indicate that he had worked, but not for quite some time. He needed a bath and his clothes were very old. His struggle with his life circumstances is just one example of the many faces of food insecurity
At the other end of the building, one of our board members and his wife were working with other people from their church to help prepare some food offered to clients before the pantry distribution. After the data collection, I walked into the kitchen and surprised him. They were starting the other half of the work (the cleanup) and would be there for a while before finishing.
He talked about the opportunity to serve and the tremendous need to be met. He wasn’t there as a board member of Second Harvest, but as a fellow church member who saw it as something he could do. It is always very impactful for me to be at the point where the food is distributed. When the volunteer and the client collide with food in the middle, two different worlds come together for a brief encounter and both lives are changed.
Tim Kean is executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. His column appears the third Sunday of each month. He can wbe reached at email@example.com.