I was scrolling through an article the other day, and right when I was about to lose interest, I happened upon a quote that instantly resonated with me.
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
The man who wrote this was a renowned and prolific American science fiction and science author, in addition to being a biochemistry professor. I didn’t look any further into what context he said this in, but that single quote hit upon something I have been struggling with throughout this summer.
It’s hard not to have preconceptions or assumptions about people and places; I’ve had to acknowledge and come to terms with some of my own on many of the activities we have had. The experience that immediately came to mind when I read this quote was our recent trip to the Central Area Food Bank distribution market, where we volunteered on a Saturday morning giving out produce to around 240 families.
We left the dorms at 8 am, the sun already shining down on us and the summer humidity enveloping us as we stepped out of the AC. After walking for around 20 minutes, we arrived, sweating slightly, to an empty parking lot, blocked by a large tractor trailer with the words “Food Bank” printed on the sides. In front of the truck was already a line about 40 people long, almost all of whom had a small cart with them and were on the older side. We would later be told that many of them had been waiting on that sidewalk as early as 6 am for a market that opened a little after 9.
At that point, it must have been at least 90 degrees outside, and after a very cheerful woman named Gabby gave us a brief spiel about the market and what the Food Bank does, we, along with a couple of other volunteers went to work setting up in that empty parking lot. There were 7 tents set up: one for registration, and one for each of the produce we were giving out that day (carrots, corn, peaches, bell peppers, cantaloupes, and watermelons). It took us a little under an hour to bag the produce into the appropriate portions and understand our roles, and with that, people were let into our little market to get what they needed.
To give more context, the market does not have any income cut offs or certain requirements such as SSNs. All they want people to do is to register their name so they did not have to register every time, and fill out some voluntary demographic information. Gabby emphasized that the organization wanted to create an atmosphere of an actual farmer’s market, where these people were treated as customers rather than approached with the mindset “you get what you get because you’re getting this for free.” She said that they might not qualify for certain food assistance programs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer from food insecurity. Some could have driven here in a car, but still need the food because they had been living paycheck to paycheck and had suddenly gotten laid off last week.
I can admit that I had made assumptions about people. I looked at the clothes they were wearing, the brands of the bags they were carrying as they passed by me. I’m not even sure what my criteria specifically was for my mind to go, “Yes, this person needs this food.” But having been there the whole morning, hearing the experiences Gabby has had, made me realize how many of my preconceptions had been misconceptions. This area had originally picked to host the market because at the time it was surrounded by affordable housing. However, in recent years, those buildings had been torn down in favor of high-end apartments, and the homes of the people who come to the market have been getting pushed further and further to the outskirts. How much did some of these people need these couple of vegetables of fruits to wake up early enough and make the long commute to still get here by 6 am? But I also don’t want to pretend that all my hesitations about these types of programs had been cleared by this one experience. For example, one of the men who walked in came up to us holding a clear cup of what was clearly beer, his breath smelling heavily of alcohol. He took a drink from his cup as we placed carrots into his bag. My first thought was still, “Does someone else deserve this food more?”
I’m still working through my thoughts, but one thing has become clear to me: I am clearly approaching this situation from a place of privilege, having never worried about food insecurity ever in my life and could not even imagine how that would feel. I believe that bottom line, no one should have to worry about when their next meal is coming, and should not restrict their diets to inexpensive, unhealthy foods because of limitations on money or access.
This summer has provided me with experiences that I still need to reflect on and think through, but I am beyond grateful that I have had them.
If you’re interested in reading more about this organization, their link is here: https://www.capitalareafoodbank.org/
If you’re at Duke and want to explore food bank volunteering opportunities, here is one I found: http://www.foodbankcenc.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Branch_Durham