On the Road — Letting go of pride, signing up for free food

Staff Writer
Morton Times-News
Bruce Schoenbein

When Mercy Church commissioned me as an itinerant missionary, they couldn’t promise much in the way of financial support. So necessity being the mother of invention, I looked at different ways of living a minimalist lifestyle.

After almost three months in Idaho Springs, Colorado, I decided to check my ego back at the house and walk the two miles to sign up for food assistance at the local food pantry called Loaves and Fishes. When I arrived, I was summarily handed a questionnaire asking for my yearly income, number of people in my household and a short explanation as to why I needed help.

I handed my completed form back to Sherron, the executive director, and after briefly scanning the two-sided interrogatory with her bifocals resting precariously on her nose, she asked me how long did I plan on staying in town and why did I decide to become a missionary.

My reply evidently satisfied her curiosity, so she asked me to sit tight until she called out my number. “Clients” as we are referred to are known not by our names, but rather by our ever present and ubiquitous numeric code: the last four digits of our Social Security number.

After about 20 minutes, Sherron called out my number. So I got up and followed her into the smallish grocery store the size of a two stall garage and grabbed me a small buggy.

It was explained to me that I could pick one item from each of the food groupings: meat, bread, sweets, dairy, eggs, snacks, paper products and produce.

When I got to the meat section, I pulled out a large block of ground-up frozen mystery meat with no labels of any kind. I was told it was ground elk. Well, as it turns out, elk happens to be my all-time favorite meat — even more so than bison!

Naturally I placed it in my buggy and made a beeline to the egg department, but not a minute later, one of the lady volunteers told me to put the frozen meat back in the cooler. Apparently, that block of meat is in excess of 1 pound and since I am only one household it’s considered too much.

It was then that my well-known gift for sarcasm and biting humor kicked in and I told the lady, that notwithstanding the fact I am only one household, I can easily eat for two households. Well if she realized this was a joke she sure didn’t show it! “ Just put it back!,” she shot back.

Humiliated and not wishing to incite a riot, I shuffled back to the cooler and said goodbye to that lovely block of elk meat which was as big as a car battery whispering, “elk... I hardly knew ye.”

When I got to the eggs, the food Nazi warned that I could only pick out six eggs since I was only one household. Geez. Now that I’m not only feeding myself, but Tony the homeless man as well, six eggs ain’t going to last me a week. Did I mention I can only shop at Loaves and Fishes once per week?

And since Tony does not reside at my house, I can’t include him in my household. If I didn’t cook breakfast every morning for Tony, he’d go hungry, especially on the weekends when the senior center closes down their hot food operation.

The weekends are especially hard on Tony to the point where he literally goes Saturdays and Sundays without any real food. 

See, Tony can get some food at the pantry, too, but he has no place to prepare and cook it, so he only gets bread, snacks and sweets, that he can eat it on the run or out in the woods.

That’s the way it is for all of the homeless here and in Denver. So I decided to provide Tony with hot meals each morning and on the weekends; breakfast, lunch and supper.

Now Tony gets perishable food from Loaves and Fishes and I combine it with mine, so he’s able to  eat good  food regularly.

As I said, we can have all the bread and sweets we want. On my first day I grabbed one loaf of organic bread but no sweets. Don’t need sweets! But, it’s good to know that I have access to as much cell-killing, diabetes producing sugar and fructose as I could possibly want.

It’s no wonder most of us “clients” are fat! Lean meat? No, can’t have more than pound. Mocha cake? Aw, go ahead take two or three! 

Maybe it’s all some kind of diabolical conspiracy to kill us off via heart attacks and strokes so the town’s elites can hoard all of the food! Well, it’s just a theory for now.

In any case, I placed my food in a box and carried it over to a nearby building where I would be able to obtain a “holiday basket” it being Easter weekend and all.

So when I entered this annex building, my eyes fell upon this beautiful canned Virginia ham. Yummm! I lunged for the unsuspecting ham only to be told by the ever present food Nazi that households of only one cannot have a ham. I must either choose the tiny chicken, that looks like it spent all of its miserable days in a Tyson poultry concentration camp of sorts somewhere down in Arkansas, or she said I could have a turkey.

 Trying to hide my disappointment, I replied that I actually preferred the turkey to the ham anyway. OK, so I lied to her. But, hey, although homeless and exceedingly poor, I still have my self respect and I must admit I had no idea I’d be running into all these Soviet-style rules and regulations. Frankly, I had no idea of what to expect since I never before set foot in a food pantry.

And, yes, I do understand the necessity of rules. But, it is difficult to be told you can’t have this and you can’t have that.

Finally, I put some of the heavier items in my day pack and the lighter stuff in a box they gave me. The next challenge was to hoof it back the 2 miles to my house. The route is only 3/4 of a mile if I was able to walk across the bridge spanning the interstate. However as luck would have it, the bridge is closed to pedestrian traffic because of construction.

So I walked the 2 miles home along the edge of Chicago Creek Road, then onto a trail bordering Clear Creek, then through the downtown district and finally west on Colorado Boulevard.

I got home and immediately began preparing Easter supper for Tony and myself. Again as luck would have it, Tony doesn’t show up and he missed out on a highly indigestible dinner!

Apparently Tony partied and partied and then partied some more. Did I mention that Tony partied? Evidently, with all of the booze he drank, he either passed out somewhere in the forest or at a friend’s home for two days!

Oh, well, the prodigal finally showed up at the coffee shop looking rather scraggly and more unkempt than usual.

Getting back to the food pantry, mind you, I’m not complaining, I’m just making anecdotal observations is all. Loaves and Fishes is staffed with mostly caring volunteers and the foodstuffs are supposed to be supplemental, not the client’s sole source of nutrition. I do get it. And, I’m very thankful for this ecumenical church operated organization.

So, I tip my hat to Sherron, her staff and her board of directors for providing food for we who are financially and home challenged.

To follow my doings and such you may visit my website at mountain

Submitted by Bruce Schoenbein