Putting hunger front and center for me

in Voices by

By Andrew McNeil

I saw a Facebook post about a church in town that was holding a food drive for a local nonprofit that provides food and clothing for those in need here in Beaufort. I was familiar with the organization and we love their story. We have donated to them many times in the past.

The need for their services has only increased over the last several months as the disruption of Covid19 and other issues have enveloped society. I decided to get my weekend started by running to the store to buy a bunch canned goods for the food drive. I was out the door early.

I filled up six grocery bags of canned meats and veggies at the store and headed to the drop off point fueled with a sense of pride and purpose. I am not a big church goer and was not familiar with that church by name, but I knew the area and was sure I would find it without a problem.

When I got into this area of town, I noticed signs, traffic and people in masks and I was sure I had found the spot. As I pulled close, I saw a man directing traffic and asked if the lines were for the food bank at the church.

He told me it was. I asked how to get in line and he directed me to pull around the block. I did.

About halfway around the block, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic. I was inspired and felt a surge of pride in the people of my little town and the unity in our shared cause. I continued creeping along and slowly came to the intersection where a long line of cars let me in. I was now in the homestretch heading to the church.

A few hundred yards before the entrance, there was a woman in a mask who handed me a sheet of paper as she directed me across a lot toward the church entrance. I read the sheet of paper and was stunned.

The sheet of paper informed me that I was in a line for food box distribution and the traffic was caused by people picking up food, not dropping it off. 

It took a minute for me to process the magnitude of my misunderstanding.

I came up to the man who had originally directed me around the block and asked for clarity. He reinforced this location was a distribution point. We apologized to one another over our mutual confusion and he directed me to head back down the main street where I had seen the long line of cars.

From this perspective, I could see that the line went on for as far as I could see. There were dozens of cars in the pickup line.

The other church was along the same route on the same street, and I felt disoriented as I headed the other direction passing car after car.

When I got to the drop-off point, I pulled right in. There were several volunteers ready to help me unload my bags and load them into their donation van. They thanked me, I thanked them and as I left, I continued past that line of people collecting their family food boxes. It was a mile long, in my small town.

I read later that this was a part of a larger food box project and these boxes were available for (only) the first 1,000 families. I also learned that the food charity that I was donating to does their own family box distribution once a month and five pallets of food are distributed in three hours each time. This is in addition to their daily operations and these other donation sites.

Until I witnessed this first-hand, there was simply no way for me to comprehend it. The magnitude of the cause in today’s world is almost overwhelming. The need has always been there and after many months of Covid and disruption, more members of our community than ever are hungry.

Since Saturday morning, the guilt I have felt for my lack of understanding has been replaced with a determination to focus on how I can be a part of the solution.

I encourage everyone to please do what you can, wherever you live in the world.

It is time for us to come together as a community in more ways than ever. The next time (and every time) you go shopping grab an extra can of something and once a week drop it by your favorite local food charity.

If you are inspired to do even more, please reach out to me. Let’s share and combine our ideas and passion and together, develop sustainable, long-term solutions for eliminating hunger in our own backyard.

Andrew McNeil is a writer, public speaker, development coach, self-taught chef and U.S. Army veteran. He can be reached at andrew_mcneil@hotmail.com.