Of all the things I aspired and trained to become, running a produce business was not among them.
Since last winter, that is essentially is what I undertook, distributing 180 tons of groceries, including fruits and vegetables, as coordinator of the Harvest Pantry at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 25 Lake St., in San Francisco.
It isn’t as foreign as one might think. My fondest memories go back to the times on my maternal grandparents farm in North Carolina when as a pre-schooler, I would wander through the corn fields, watch the hogs in the pig pen, smell the slaughter house, pick apples off the tree and learn the secrets of management and negotiation with the mule.
Without running water or electricity, they brought bounty from more than 40 acres.
In the midst of several farms owned by family members was the venerable New Center United Presbyterian Church where their faith was renewed. Although the farms have been plowed under for subdivisions and the expansion of an airport, the church building and cemetery are still there, along with the memories.
One of the things one learns on a farm is the unity of all life and the importance of coordination. My namesake grandfather John William Tatum always had time to swing on the porch with me because he had a system for running the farm that tapped into the talent of the entire family of farmers.
Those lessons have served me well to appreciate how a corps of several hundred volunteers joins me in the task for feeding 300 persons and their associated households each Saturday morning at 8 a.m.
On Sunday, Sept. 19, the church shows appreciation for their commitment with a Harvest Pantry volunteer pot-luck dinner immediately after the 10 a.m worship service.
Our volunteers include church elders and deacons who serve as leaders for each Saturday distribution; a records keeper who creates a list each weekend of eligible recipients and dedicated volunteers who show up each weekend for recycling, allocating portions and running the intake desk. We also get individual volunteers and groups from schools and civic organizations to distribute food. That adds up to as many as 25 volunteers each week.
On Fridays, out of the limelight, two dozen volunteers from our neighbor Temple Emanuel shop at the Food Bank to make sure the recipients have a tantalizing selection to meet their nutritional needs for a week.
When the Food Bank truck delivers up to three tons each Saturday morning, that small army is hard at work by 6 a.m., turning our foyer into a market.
Each 15 minutes between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., 50 recipients arrive based on a quarterly lottery we use to allocate time slots.
We never have to wonder about the need for our labor, because those time slots are always filled up. Since I began volunteering for Harvest, the number of recipients has grown from 150 to 300 each Saturday.
No matter the numbers, our volunteers have every morsel handed out, the boxes broken down and prepared for recycling, the church vacuumed and returned to conditions pristine enough for the typical wedding ceremony which follows our effort on most Saturdays.
It’s an awe-inspiring feat, enough to give some meaning to the Biblical miracles and evidence that through divine providence, all things are possible.