This is what happens when you go grocery shopping without a list.
About a dozen or so volunteers at the State College Food Bank on South Atherton Street spent Tuesday morning in the bowels of the facility’s makeshift aisles, unpacking boxes of canned, boxed and miscellaneously packaged food.
It was a magnificent bounty, collected over a period of weeks under the auspices of the Boy Scouts of America — and a fraction of the haul the young men in uniform solicited from the community.
The rest was being kept in the back room with an open floor plan and a high ceiling that could accommodate about half a dozen pallets, each straining under the weight of many months’ worth of three square meals a day.
Anonymously packaged into wine boxes and other assorted cardboard, the items had been bound into a literal food pyramid, held together by a thick coating of plastic wrap.
It’s difficult to chart with a degree of certainty the true impact of any good deed, but thanks to an industrial-sized scale and strict bookkeeping practices, we can exclusively report that this one weighed in at about 22,000 pounds — or roughly 11 tons.
Actually, this might be what happens when you go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.
Regardless, things are going very well, so well, in fact, that Carol Pioli, executive director of the State College Food Bank, believes that it’s safe for folks to leave the pumpkin pies and the gingerbread at home.
“We’re back to normal food. Our holiday stuff is complete,” Pioli said.
This is in large part thanks to State College’s Rob and Alice Thomas, who in the span of the same week that saw a very contentious election come to a close, donated enough money to cover approximately 800 turkey dinners.
Half of that flock has already been pre-packaged with the help of a Penn State nutrition class — bags of bird, stuffing and pie mix looking for a good home and a preheated oven. The food bank’s clients have the option of picking up their meals now or waiting for the calendar to inch a little closer to Thanksgiving.
The process will basically wash, rinse and repeat itself come Christmas.
It is so important to us to give back to this great community. The State College Food Bank does wonderful work around the holidays and all throughout the year. We are so glad to help.
“Alice and I are very happy to make a donation to the State College Food Bank to make sure families in our community that need assistance get a Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner,” Rob Thomas said. “It is so important to us to give back to this great community. The State College Food Bank does wonderful work around the holidays and all throughout the year. We are so glad to help.”
While the Thomas’ are getting a jump-start on all of that peace on earth and goodwill toward men stuff, Pioli is still busy giving thanks.
The shelves at the food bank are always at their most robust during the holidays.
Right now the variety of flakes alone (frosted, corn, bran) is an embarrassment of riches, rivaling anything you might hope to find in the cereal aisle at Wegmans.
Pioli estimates that in any given year, 25 percent of the donations they receive — or 100,000 pounds of food — are made in November and December.
The hitch is that clients come year-round, typically referred through partners such as Centre Volunteers in Medicine, The Salvation Army, Community Help Centre and Interfaith Human Services.
Instead of receiving an impersonalized care package — think Grandma’s one-size-fits-all Christmas sweaters — beneficiaries of the State College Food Bank are assigned points based on the size of their household, giving them a sort of manifest destiny over what winds up on their plate.
The difference may seem negligible, but Pioli said that in the end it all comes down to dignity, the simple empowerment that comes from deciding that you’d rather have Pop-Tarts instead of Fritos as a midnight snack.
There are also a few practical matters to take into consideration.
Life is good. There are good people out there. There are really good people in this community.
Rich Barrickman, a board member, said that the practice prevents the bank from wasting precious resources or burdening people with things they don’t want (for illustration, please refer back to Grandma’s one-size-fits-all Christmas sweater).
“It’s more economical for us. They’re not getting stuff they won’t use,” Barrickman said.
Ask him what he envisions for the food bank’s future and he’ll say more — more food, more storage space, more partners — all of which takes time and a generosity of spirit that extends well beyond a holiday mandate.
But there’s hope — especially if you’re Carol Pioli.
The Thomas’ were a welcome reminder that angels do exist, if not on earth, then at least in the better nature of the men, women and children who walk its surface.
“Life is good. There are good people out there. There are really good people in this community,” Pioli said.