Friday Food Fair in St. Paul is ‘simple but amazing’
Written by Jason Karpf, Donor Relations Director for The Salvation Army Northern Division
It’s a Friday morning at the West 7th Salvation Army in St. Paul. A big food truck arrives at the loading docks at 9 a.m. Partnering nonprofit Second Harvest is dropping off two tons of donated groceries.
A team of 30 volunteers stands ready. Some are from local churches, others from local workplaces. They have two hours to create a supermarket from scratch from the pallets rolling off the truck.
No problem…it all goes according to plan every week at the West 7th Salvation Army. Friday is food distribution day – an event known to food shelf guests as Friday Food Fair.
“It’s simple but amazing,” says Dazzle McVay, Salvation Army Volunteer Coordinator.
In her first full-time job after graduating college, McVay organizes and schedules the volunteer teams that turn a truckload of food into sustenance and hope. She knows today is important, like every other Friday. A good outcome will keep people coming back. Guests receiving food will revisit, motivating many to delve deeper into The Salvation Army’s additional life-changing services. Volunteers staging the event will also return, thriving on helping others, convincing their friends and colleagues to join the effort.
The truck’s contents pile into the large community room. Helen Ortiz, a Salvation Army volunteer for 30 years, directs the Food Fair team in sorting and displaying the items. The supermarket takes shape with food and beverages placed in assigned spaces – bread and baked goods on a center table; meat on a large, multi-shelf cart; jugs of milk and orange juice arranged where people walk in.
The people arrive
In the main lobby, people are lining up to receive the free offerings. All ages and many backgrounds are visible among the 150 people who will be served this day. Strollers, walkers, and wheeled luggage that will hold a week’s worth of food squeak across the tile floor. The line is restless but orderly.
Jim Bono surveys the group, shaking hands and making purposeful eye contact. His tattooed arms and shaved head suggest an authority figure. But he is simply another Salvation Army volunteer, working the Food Fair for the past year.
“When I was down and out, nobody saw me,” says Bono, describing his difficult recovery from a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Now he gives back as an advocate for TBI and a regular presence at the West 7th Salvation Army. His eye contact bestows respect to each person gathered, his handshakes and small talk instill calm, and his announcements maintain order.
“The food will still be there,” Bono reminds the line with a smile that promotes patience.
The people are served
The people in line head to the chapel area, where they receive a numbered ticket and sit down in the pews. They wait until groups of 10 are called, again by random.
Lts. Jonathan and Ceamona Taube, leaders of the West 7th Salvation Army, welcome the assembly. Lt. Jonathan plays guitar and sings Christian songs. Lt. Ceamona checks attendees’ numbers and oversees callouts for those who can move to the community room to receive their food. Lt. Jonathan follows his music with a brief message, reinforcing the Food Fair’s biblical roots. A game of trivia then begins. Anyone who gives a correct answer is able to go immediately to the food area.
In the community room, people are treated like shoppers. Volunteers guide them through the food stations, make recommendations, and help with special requests. Each person is allowed to take enough food to last until the next Food Fair.
The morning’s mountain of groceries dwindles steadily. Grateful recipients collect their items and make way for those in the chapel still waiting their turn.
By early afternoon, the West 7th Salvation Army is quiet again. The community room is tidy, the big display tables put away. Leftover items from the Food Fair are rotated into the food pantry. Soon, people will be preparing for the next giveaway.
Reminders will spread in the community:
“Line up early.”
“Brush up on your trivia.”
“Jim looks like a bouncer, but he’s cool.”
The Salvation Army – its volunteers, donors, partners, officers and staff – will be ready for the next Friday Food Fair.
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As the holidays approach, demand for seasonal items in our food pantries and number of visitors increase.
When you donate to the Salvation Army Store, you give clothing a second life and families a second chance. When you donate to our red kettles, you give individuals and families support to get back on their feet. When you donate to the food shelf, you give an opportunity for a mother to strengthen her children through nourishment and a family meal together...