Monday, November 24, 2008

CREATING COMMUNITY

FISH Hospitality Pantries, where sharing food is just the beginning

“not all pantries are stocked as well as ours”

From our beginning, Avanti Savoia has always been fanatically dedicated to the highest quality products. We take our motto, “Culinary Treasures from around the World” very seriously. We are passionate and enthusiastic about bringing our treasures to your pantry, but we are also realistic and aware that not all pantries are stocked as well as ours.

“this is in our backyard!”

The headquarters of Avanti Savoia is located in Knox County, Tennessee, where it is estimated that some 47,000 people live in poverty. Children make up 40% of this group. This is not some remote and exotic part of the globe, this is in our backyard! We are fortunate however to have an extraordinary local organization addressing this problem.

“These are very real people”

As part of the FISH network of food pantries, Hospitality Pantries, Inc. is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization working to end hunger by providing over 12,000 food packages each month in our county alone. This is more than all other local food pantries combined. These are very real people, not just numbers. To prevent hunger and assure adequate nutrition is certainly the organization’s primary purpose, yet there are other goals as well.

“All who come for food are welcomed as guests.”

Hospitality Pantries are about relationship and people working together toward a more compassionate and just community for all people. The pantry strives to be “a hospitable, non-judgmental presence in the community that respects human dignity and privacy. All who come for food are welcomed as guests.”

“One thing is certain…you will be assured of getting some food. No one will ever be turned away.”

Not all food pantries are created equal nor do they have the same approaches to their missions. I was certainly aware that food pantries existed and had even worked at restaurants that participated in such programs. Even so, I knew very little about the day to day reality of a working food pantry. There are a number of pantries that offer only occasional assistance and many that are quite strict in their guidelines for qualifying for assistance. “One thing is certain. If you are in need of food, and you can get to one of our pantries on any given day, you will be assured of getting some food. No one will ever be turned away,” writes Beth Carroll Hunley, Hospitality Pantries Community Organizer.

“It was not long before I contacted the director”

About a dozen years ago I did a little looking around at the state of local food pantries in order to assist a “down on his luck” acquaintance. As I arranged for my friend to pick up some needed food, I spoke at length with a volunteer at the Hospitality Pantry. I was intrigued by their attitude and underlying philosophy that seemed to be in such contrast to other programs. It was not long before I contacted the founder and Director, Jim Wright and committed myself as a new (and na├»ve) volunteer. From the beginning of the program in the 1980’s, Jim Wright knew that feeding the hungry should be accomplished without limitations and in a non-judgmental way. He believed that people were nourished as much in the way they were treated as by the food itself. He asked volunteers to suspend judgment. To quote Mr. Wright, “Givers and receivers are united, for in helping to free others we are ourselves freed by the same spirit”. It was in the context of a new volunteer, that I began to appreciate the concept of non-judgmental welcoming that is so central to this organization’s work. Through my work with other volunteers, I began to confront my own pre-conceived attitudes and subtle prejudices. I’ve always considered myself to be relatively open minded and compassionate person; but my experience was really one of shock as I began to recognize my own personal elitism.

“distinction between the “helpers” and those that need “help” is constantly blurred”
As important as is the need for food, the pantry is also committed to be a place in the community where people from diverse backgrounds, races, heritages and economic circumstances, can come together to create true community. On a typical day the pantry is a beehive of activity and energy. It is not unusual to hear bits of Spanish, Russian, German and even Romanian spoken by the busy volunteers. People from varied circumstances are transformed by being in relationship with one another. This experience has allowed diverse members of the community to grow, learn, and enjoy one another. The distinction between the “helpers” and those that need “help” is constantly blurred as these relationships develop and artificial boundaries disappear.

“Avanti Savoia is very happy to contribute”

Donated food is only a part of the pantry’s program, because a great deal of their food must be purchased. That of course means cash and that cash comes from individuals, business interests, churches, certain foundations and the all important Gift Card Project. Avanti Savoia is very happy to contribute various food products to the Hospitality Pantries throughout the year as well as participate in their main fundraiser, the Gift Card Project. Last year over $63,000 was raised from the gift card project. For just $5, or any multiple of $5, you can spread goodwill and feed hungry families at the same time. With this gift, a family of four can be fed for three days with just a $5 gift. Please consider this meaningful gift in your holiday gift buying frenzy. We have included in this post a sample of this year’s card. For more on this vital project and other information, please visit their website at http://www.fishhospitalitypantries.org/.