A story of compassion with: Laura Leafstrand & CityTeam’s Senior Pantry

Whenever I get home from a long day, I expect a full pantry, fridge, and cabinets. As one of my mom’s love languages is food, she ensures my family never goes a day without a good meal. One of my mom’s running jokes is the way I start my mornings: flinging open our two-doored fridge with the air of a desperado, sniffing out the best leftovers for breakfast. Some of my strongest, earliest memories are of the food my mom cooked for me when I was small—spinach egg scrambles that I remember as distinctly too green, neatly folded wontons afloat in hot broth, or perfect birthday cakes screaming for a party.

Last spring, when my school shut down due to the pandemic, I returned home from the dorms with fully-met expectations of all the home-made, healthy meals I could enjoy made by my mom’s hands. Every day, I know my house has groceries, cooked food, and a dry pantry kept well-stocked.

Within the past year, however, I’ve come to realize just how privileged and blessed such food security is. So many people do not have the means to enjoy such groceries and healthy meals with ease. According to the Hunger Study published by Second Harvest and SCU’s Leavy School of Business, food insecurity affects around 43,388 seniors in Santa Clara County. Not only that, but Second Harvest reports that Santa Clara County’s lowest-income renters have little income left for food, as they spend 62% of their income on rent. For the elderly with housing insecurity, it is doubly hard to enjoy food security; add the Covid-19 pandemic on top of that, and it’s become a physical danger for them to go grocery shopping or stand in long lines for distributions.

The CityTeam Pantry at Miranda Senior Villa Apartments is a response to this lack of such food comfort and security. Recognizing the struggles seniors may face, the CityTeam in the Neighborhood program has set up grocery distributions from Second Harvest Food Bank. Grace South Bay, in partnering with CityTeam’s program to financially sponsor this mobile pantry, has renewed this sponsorship for the next six months. Every second and fourth Thursday, volunteers come and drop off a neat pile of boxes outside residents’ doors. Volunteering is easy to commit to with this link: https://cityteam.volunteerhub.com/lp/gracesouthbay/.

I interviewed Laura Leafstrand to find out more about her experience doing such a distribution.
She opens by describing how she first got interested in the Miranda Villa grocery distribution: “I went with a group of women—I’ve been involved with this group called Moms in Prayer, this is our tenth year, and it’s a group of moms from the neighborhood. We meet every Thursday and pray for our kids, pray for the schools… A time to just get together, we’ve gone over Zoom now since March but are still keeping that connection.

And so when I saw the email from Debby I thought wow, it’s on Thursday, it would be a nice opportunity to do something to help others.”

Not only that, but she says, “I love to cook and I think for me, you know, cooking not only for my family but for other families, for the new moms—I coordinate the new moms’ meals at church—and so it’s a way that I can show my care and love for others by providing meals.” In this way, drawing her prayer group to the Villas and distributing food married two of her interests together.

I asked her how the distribution operates. A simple operation, she goes on to explain—“I think there were 8 of us. When we got there, the food comes on pallets. It’s a two-story apartment building, and not all of the residents have food, so you have to figure out which rooms have [signed-up for food] and which rooms [haven’t], and it’s delivery of a protein, eggs, and a dried food box as well as some fresh vegetables.

So we set off with our crates and go around. We went through and dropped off the boxes outside of the door. And for the most part, people were in their apartments.”

With Covid and the nature of a distribution, it was understandably hard to establish much of a connection with the residents. “When we finished we would ring the doorbell, and some of them came to the door and were very appreciative and [so] we got to talk a little bit to some of the residents, but I think with Covid people just stayed in their room and then once, we were gone, they brought their food in,” Laura tells me.

And yet, it is still “a way to serve our community. There was nothing we had to do to prepare. We could just show up.” They finished distributing the food in about an hour and a half and, because “ there was a little bit of lifting, we got a bit of a work out,” Laura adds.

She also notes that, for her mom’s group, “We’ve never done anything like this before, so to have a chance to serve together was fun. And we all went out to lunch after at Shake Shack.”

Our interview took place several weeks after Laura first distributed the groceries at Miranda. I asked her about going again: “We would probably like to do it on a regular basis…The moms that went were ones that had kids in middle school and high school.” Such a comment reflects the nature of this volunteer opportunity—a beautiful, easy chance for volunteers with flexible work commitments or with kids in school to get out of their houses and do something in community with other food-loving volunteers.

For Debby and I, our hope is that eventually this grocery distribution becomes much more than four boxes outside a door, but a stepping stone to greater connection with our older neighbors. CityTeam, Miranda Villa, and Grace are working together to establish a service to these senior residents; eventually, we hope that we can find creative ways to talk to these residents and share the gospel.

My regular eating habits remind me that food is an everyday commitment. We cannot be “optionally hungry;” our stomachs’ crying out for food is our daily reminder of our humanity—we cannot survive without food. As we serve others in distributing groceries they otherwise cannot get, we are reaching them at a basic, human level. Hunger doesn’t care if we are poor, rich, young, or old, but calls us all. It is how we answer this call, perhaps via grocery distributions, deliveries, or pantries, that gives us a chance to connect over our common humanity.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” —Matthew 25:35

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