What We Learned from Milk

Our church does a weekly food pantry at the elementary school down the road. We started out doing backpacks for about 40 kids three years ago, moved into doing a food pantry (providing a bag of food to take the whole family through the weekend when kids are not getting breakfast and lunch at school) and serving about 90 people. This year the number has doubled, and our little church with the little budget (and a lot of help from the Arkansas Food Bank) provides food to 180 people to get them through the weekend.

We have learned a lot through the process–about the best system to pick up, organize and distribute food and about the people we serve. Volunteers from our church go to the school and distribute the food. This is an important part of the program. By getting to know the people, we get to know what they like, what they can cook and what’s going on in their lives. Just about the time we think we’ve got it all down, we realize that we don’t know everything.

This year we’ve been able to add frozen meat and milk to our food offerings. Last week, we had 66 gallons of milk left over. We shouldn’t have. Our order person carefully calculated the needs of each family based on the size of the family and the number of kids to make sure everyone got the milk they needed. Why did we have so much left over? It’s complicated. Or at least multifaceted. But here are some of the things that played into our surplus.

  • Not everyone made it to pick up their food that day. Car problems, kid problems and work conflicts prevented several families from collecting their food bags. Parents can pick up the non-perishables the next day, but there’s no cold storage for milk and meat.
  • Only part of our stash of milk was whole milk, and it was the first to go. Some of the moms said their kids won’t drink skim or one percent, so they didn’t take it.
  • Some of our families walk home, and more than a gallon of milk, along with the rest of food was too much to carry.
  • Some of the large families would have liked to take the four gallons of milk that we ordered for them and certainly would have used it, but there wasn’t room in their refrigerator for four gallons of milk at one time. I kind of Homer-Simpson-head-slapped myself on that one. Didn’t even consider that. I’ve never tried to put four gallons of milk in my fridge. It just hasn’t come up.
  • At least one family just doesn’t drink milk at all.

So this week, we altered the milk order.

I grew up on the Free to Be You and Me book and record (yes, record). The end of one of the poems echoes in my mind whenever we set out to try and help in our church, our community and in our city.

Some kind of help is the kind of help that helping is all about. And some kind of help is the kind of help we all can do without. 

We always want to be the kind of help that helping is all about, so we  continue to learn and to benefit from the parents and kids and staff of Seventh Street Elementary. Last week all the volunteers scored some homemade tamales from one of the moms. They were fabulous.

And don’t worry about the milk. We found two different places that had the need and the storage, so nothing went to waste.

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