Tucked between the letters of my keyboard this morning was an envelope with my name on it. The Lindsey that worked in an elementary school since 2010 saw this and thought, “Who’s getting married / having a baby / having a barbeque on Friday?”
It turns out, the note was one of celebration. Inside, a handwritten message from Manna’s Executive Director, Jackie DeCarlo, read: Dear Lindsey, Happy 1st anniversary with Manna!
Working in an elementary school while I studied Nutrition feels like a lifetime ago. It’s impossible not to pause today and reflect on my long journey to The Dream Job and now my year living and growing in it. This blog is also a special place to reflect on my grocery store tours, cooking classes, kids in the kitchen, hanging out with caring youth, holidays at a food bank, that shared spirit of giving with my co-workers, the dedicated people with whom I work, and the remarkable support of Manna’s neighbors.
The end of my first year coincides with the end of the academic year, which feels like a fitting opportunity for superlatives…
Most surprising: Seeing drivers of trash trucks, school buses, and taxis enter our lobby to pick up food for their own families in between work shifts. Greeting parents with work badges around their necks, waiting in line for food on what might otherwise be a lunch break. Witnessing firsthand that being employed doesn’t guarantee food on the table.
Most discouraging: Standing with elderly clients who wait, and wait, and wait, and wait with their Manna food boxes for transportation to arrive. Whether it’s the nearest bus, a neighbor, a cab, or a prepaid car service, it is heart-wrenching to witness seniors sitting beneath the scorching summer heat telling me that this is simply how it goes.
Most encouraging: Repeated encounters with clients and kids who made a change to their diet after our class together. Sometimes it’s an individual who has diabetes who now understands how to read nutrition fact labels after our grocery store tour. Or it’s my fifth rec center cooking class and an 8-year-old tells me how he repeated that spinach recipe at home with mom. (The same kid who tells me at the beginning of class green vegetables make him gag and begs me for third helpings at the end).
Most touching: The smiles I receive in the community when people see my Manna Food Center nametag. It’s remarkable how many positive, trusting and encouraging responses I receive from strangers who value and connect to the work we do. “My school did a food drive for Manna last month” or “I love the fresh fruits and vegetables in Manna’s food boxes” are comments I hear often and in unexpected places. Once, in the grocery store parking lot, I offered to help a frustrated woman jump her car battery and she replied, “No thank you, but could you tell me how I can get food for my family at Manna?” Those panhandling—from whom I admit I once averted my eyes—now wave to me, “that lady from Manna”. And I wave back. It’s a remarkable and unusual experience to walk in public and have strangers offer such gentleness and trust.
Most grateful: Me. For a food bank that offers far more than food. For a workplace that sees clients as mothers, fathers, workers, veterans, members of our community fighting a harder battle—to whom we can offer food, and kindness.