A young woman walks into the food pantry. She looks pretty down on her luck, pain and stress are clearly visible by the look in her eyes. She maintains a frown as she approaches the front desk.
“Do I need to sign in?” she asks plainly, all the while eyeballing the sign-in sheet.
Linda, our accommodating employee and front desk worker, nods and shows the young woman where to fill out the date, her name, address, number of people in the house and so forth.
Her natural frown, a result of financial instability and an inconvenient slew of hard times, remains still on her face.
Once Linda is finished filling out forms for this woman, she rings a bell.
The sound from the bell carries throughout the food pantry and travels to where our volunteers sit. Immediately after the bell is rung, one volunteer jumps to assist this young woman.
The volunteer invites the young woman to follow her over to the shelves of groceries. She sees cans of condensed chicken noodle soup, boxes of Sun-maid California sun-dried raisins, loaves of white bread and bagels for breakfast.
“So how’s your day going so far?” asks the volunteer.
By design, the volunteers at the Mishawaka Food Pantry stand next to our customers in need with open ears. Volunteers are told to be good listeners, because sometimes people need to vent and share their story in order to feel better and cope with their situation.
This young woman does exactly that.
“Not too well to tell the truth,” she replies.
“Why’s that?” asks the volunteer.
She starts to tell the volunteer the reason for her dispirited demeanor.
“My husband and I worked at a factory in Elkhart,” she starts to say.
The volunteer listens intently soaking in all the words like a sponge, acknowledging the humanity and plight of the young woman, treating her with respect and dignity as anyone should.
“We used to ride to work together in a nice suburban SUV,” says the woman.
The volunteer nods, while bagging the chicken noodle soup.
“One day, we drove to the factory only to find that the doors were locked. The factory had shut down and we both lost jobs at that very moment,” she says, “It was our only source of income.”
“I’m so sorry,” replies the volunteer with a tone of empathy.
“You know, we used to donate food and clothes to the Mishawaka Food Pantry,” she said.
“Did you really?” replied the volunteer.
“Yes. Isn’t life a funny thing? Now we are on the receiving end,” she joked.
“Yes ma’am. Life is a funny thing,” replied the volunteer.
A transformation begins to ensue within the young woman. As she talks, her shoulders become less tense. Her weary facial expression starts to subside as an expression of relief decides to dawn.
The volunteer bags all of her groceries, glances over the checklist of items and makes a trip to the door alongside the woman.
As she begins to make the journey back into her regular life and reality, she thanks the volunteer for listening to her momentary troubles.
The young woman with the initial worn-out look on her face—of grief and hard times—walks out of the Mishawaka Food Pantry wearing a smile.
This story is based on real and detailed observations of volunteers and customers at the Mishawaka Food Pantry.