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When the food pantry gives you 15 pounds of onions, make french onion soup!

December 29, 2011

As the old saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  I generally try to look at life in terms of the opportunities it is offering me, not the obstacles it throws at me.  Even the most difficult times have brought me chances to learn from my experiences and develop deeper understanding of myself and the world around me.

Since leaving my job due to my health problems, I have had to use quite a bit of creativity to make ends meet.  I did not carry short term disability insurance and have a five month gap before the long term disability insurance I do carry kicks in.  I have been selling assets (what little I have left after a year of high medical expenses and only managing to work part time), withdrawing money from my small retirement accounts, and applying for public assistance.  Even as I overcome my embarrassment at having to ask others to give me food, part of me is storing this information away in order to help my future patients who might need to apply for food stamps or go to food pantries.

So now I go to a church in a neighborhood nearby, take a number, and wait for my turn to pick up a selection of non-perishable food items and breads.  One day a month is the “Fresh Foods for Families” distribution.  My husband and I attended that for the first time the week before Christmas.  I guess the turn out must have been lighter than expected because the volunteers insisted on giving us two portions.  We left with an 8 pound cabbage (I didn’t know they came that big!), at least 3 dozen oranges, and about 15 pounds of red onions among other things.  I hate to waste this, even more than if I had bought it.  I have been baking orange sage bread and orange crumb cake.  I blanched and froze all that cabbage.  I have been incorporating more onions than usual in my cooking and yes, making french onion soup.  The soup turned out quite well, actually.  I’ve never made it before.  The key seems to be having patience when caramelizing the onions on the stove before adding them to the soup.  This takes much longer than I thought it would!  Here’s a link to the recipe I used.

I am grateful for the existence of these food pantries and the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).  Not having to spend the small amount of cash I have on food is enabling me to pay rent and utilities until my income resumes.  I do feel that twinge of guilt when I pass the boxes and barrels in stores and other places collecting donations for the food banks without putting something in.  I remind myself of all the times in the past I DID put items in the box to help people like me who need a hand in a difficult time.  I have contributed to the good of society and still do in the ways I am able.  I will continue to contribute, though in different ways than I anticipated.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Melissa permalink
    January 4, 2012 7:58 am

    It’s a good time of year to remember the couple of years that my family and I were able to continue eating and living in our home due to the kindness and generosity of friends and neighbors and total strangers. It was after my heart attack, then multiple complications, and eventual open heart surgery that our finances were completely tapped out. My husband lost his job due to taking care of my frequent emergencies and hospitalizations. We foolishly thought that we’d take a year, living on our cashed out retirement funds, then go back to work. Unfortunately, our crises happened just as the country’s finances crumbled, and jobs became scarce. I officially became disabled and had to stop working in my 30 year nursing career in hospice. Once my condition stablized, my husband, also a Hospice RN, had a very difficult time getting back into the field, after his year off taking care of me. We found that nurses in their 50’s with any gap in employment, for any reason, were not being rehired. He had to start out at the bottom of the ladder, after 30 years of steady employment in nursing, doing shift work in homecare. He even had a gig where he had to accompany a wheelchair bound man on a ventilator to a casino every day, to stand by, holding a spitoon for him to spit his used chewing tobacco into, and suction his lungs when he got congested. For this grueling work, he was paid $15/hr. He eventually worked into a homecare/hospice job as a contractor, meaning that he gets no benefits, and the work is not guaranteed. His dignity and our ability to predict our income is very shakey. Still, we survive.
    We were, at first, horrified and embarrassed to ask for help, but soon found that we were in the best of company– people we knew pretty well were showing up at the food bank too. Friends started a donation account at a local bank that we called our miracle account. We figure that we got around $5 or 6,000 dollars of anonymous donations to help defray living costs. The local committee to prevent homelessness helped us pay our heat, sewer and light bills. A local church group came and trimmed the invasive blackberry bushes that threatened to block our driveway and front door. In the summer, boxes of fresh garden produce showed up on our doorstep, along with pots of soup, and flowers.
    It is clear, from what I hear on the streets, and what I read in the papers and online, that we are not unique. LOTS of people are failing to juggle their jobs, housing, insurance and health in this hostile financial environment. Fear reigns.
    What I take away from this awful few years is that while money is what makes this country and world keep spinning, it is NOT the fundamental ingredient for human survival. No, those ingredients are love, generosity, humility and cooperation. Finding ways to connect with others, helping others, returning the generosity in whatever ways we can, treating our fellow human beings with unconditional love and respect and dignity– those are the magic ingredients. Oh, and a huge dollop of creativity and the ability to go out on a limb cannot be understated.
    It will be through this kind of mindset and generosity of time, spirit and yes, even money, that we’ll be able to find a way up out of the big hole.
    Bless us each and every one, and may we prevail in the time to come. We are worth it, we are strong and we are loving.

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