While I was preparing to write this article, my dear wife approached me with a big smile on her face: “You know what day it is today?”
I quickly browsed by memory, but nothing clever came up to surface.
“Let me give you a hint: Anniversary.” told Silva.
I do not know about other men when they find themselves in such situation, but for me, it has been a real panic. What did I forget again? I opened up my calendar. We got married in September, so this option is out. We started our relationship in September as well, so out too. It’s not her birthday, neither is her saint feast day.
‘Well, I have no clue.’ I replied.
‘It is the 7th anniversary since I put you as a friend on Facebook!’
O my God! Women and men really come from different planets! Thanks to the Facebook notification messages, I will apparently be forced to put another entry to my do not forget calendar.
First day at the food distribution center
When we stepped inside a large hall under the church of Saint Hippolyte, there were at least 50 people already present at the spot. We could not find anyone speaking English at first. So we stood in the middle of the hall and watched the confusion.
Project Août Secours Alimentaire operates for a long time, since 1994 to be specific. As written in my previous article, their aim is to fill in the gap that appears each August. This is a month when majority of food distribution centers for homeless and socially deprived close their doors because of the holiday and vacation season.
Each August volunteers join forces with employees of the organization Esat Regain Paris, which is in charge of this project.
In eight Paris districts they rent large halls. They bring the food donated by merchandise enterprises, by various sponsors and by the state to these warehouses. They organize people and the whole month of August they intensively distribute food to hungry people of Paris.
In the middle of the action
So we stood there watching the scene. In the middle of the hall, there were ten empty tables installed and volunteers were waiting and chatting there.
At the other end of the hall, on the side, some women were slicing fresh bread and sorting different food products, which were sent here just before their expiry date.
But soon it all started to move fast. From the warehouse, which is in an adjacent room at the hall, they began to deliver large packages. They left them on the tables in the center and the people around finally got their assignement.
Jump right in
Although we didn’t know the routine and work methods, we also joined people at the tables. Sometimes it’s best to jump right in the water and swim along. We just did what others were doing and no one had anything against it. Excellent!
We were opening various packages of food; milk, cans of vegetables, fish, corn and a variety of spreads and sorting those by types of food.
Milk has been put separately at the end of the table, cans of fish beside milk, cheese spreads beside the fish and so on in a series of six different types of food along the entire length of the middle tables.
Volunteers gathered from all around
The work was progressing nicely and over the time we also started to enjoy it. Especially as we met some volunteers speaking English along the way.
The team of assistants is very much international, although everyone was living and working in France. From young girls to older gentlemen, all with a single purpose: to distribute as much food and brighten up a day to people which are soon to be entering this hall.
Filling in the packages
When the packages were opened and the food was sorted and stacked along tables, we started filling in the plastic bags.
The process was very smooth and forethought-trained. Soon it became clear to us that this is a routine, a result tested and optimized in 20-year of actions in August.
There were six bag-fillers standing behind each food group, we however joined the rest in the line, with a plastic bag in our hands. We moved along the line from one filler to another, which were putting food in our bags.
When the last filler in a series add their food in the bag, the bag was closed and placed on a fast emerging pile of already-made ‘meals’.
Brown, blue and white
Basically, meals (filled bags) are aimed at three groups of people who come for help.
A brown bag contains a meal for families.
A blue bag is meant for individual, who has a chance or knowledge to prepare a warm meal by himself.
A white bag is prepared for individuals who do not have such possibility. Here the food in the bag is ready-made.
This way, we started with preparing meals for the families, all later on for all the rest. We commenced at 2 PM and finished at 4 PM. After two hours of filling-in the bags, we were happy to see three large piles of brown, blue and white bags. And now, the main part of the story.
A hall is ready for guests
We quickly rearranged the hall into a reception space. We installed 10 tables to start accepting people and there was a kind of ‘bar’ ready for people to collect some special treats.
Fresh vegetables, fruits and bread were prepared as well. These are subsequently added to the bags just before they are placed into the hands of the individual. Space for fresh tea, coffee and juice was ready too. Also, a large round table with toys intended for children, while waiting for their parents.
A package a day
People began to come into the hall at 4 PM. They had special cards, received in centers for social work. The cards show clearly which package and how many of these a person is entitled to.
In principle, each package is enough for one day, but you can get two of them so one does not have to come again for food the very next day.
Work at the reception desk
During a short break and a snack, just before our doors opened for the visitors, we met a likable Vicemar. She is a Filipino, who speaks excellent English, and comes every day at 4 PM volunteering to the hall, usually working behind one of the reception desks.
She nodded to us and took us to the first table. Over the next four hours we were in for a completely different job.
Coordinated and harmonious
Silva, along with twenty others, with the assistance of Vicemar was accepting people and marked their cards.
And I stood there bringing relevant bags based on which carton paper the individual was entitled to. Each parlor had two ‘delivery person’, I was, therefore, only one out of twenty.
Soon we were completely coordinated. In fact, our entire team was working harmonious. For me it is a very inspiring and blessing work, although physically quite tough.
Never empty of meal bags
And the people who were coming in? Many were waiting in line outside the door at least two hours before the opening of the hall. In fact, I’ve seen people sitting in front of the church already at the time, when we came to work.
Although nobody ever stays without a meal, people want to make sure to get some of those daily treats and fresh vegetables or fruits, which are sometimes lacking by the end of the day.
Hunger knows no borders
A very different sort of people were present, different nationalities, religions, cultures, different ages. Families with small children, teenagers, elderly people, single men and women. What they all had common was that their daily meal was not a granted matter.
Some trapped in the vicious circle of addiction, others homeless, some with jobs but having large families to support.
One young Parisian weeping at the reception desk and complaining that she could not find any work. Many look tired and desperate. As if walking in the distribution center is the last thing that their bodies are capable of doing. But some are still full of positive energy and enthusiasm, even able to make us the volunteers laughing.
The results are excellent
After a week of work, Allan, Director of the food distribution unit sat behind our reception desk. Showing the results of the work in the past week. They were excellent!
We have distributed 3,380 meals to families and 1,482 meals to individuals. All together 4,862 meals! What a feeling!
A great feeling is also the fact that you did respond to our campaign. We are happy and grateful for your every Euro that we will be able to give to Août Secours Alimentaire at the end of the month. With most certainty, we can assure you that money will go into the right hands.
There is still some time left by the end of August, so you are not late for donations. Click here to support this cause.
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