Cooking Lessons: Immanuel Food Pantry


The Pantry

If you follow our blog, then you know that we’ve been doing a canned food drive here to try and collect 1,000 cans for local food pantries throughout the country. I am ecstatic to report that to date we have collected 857 Cans, $2,500 to various charities, and racked up 42 hour of community service all in the name of our canned food drive!!! I am, once again, overwhelmed out how much people will step up to help when you give them a little direction. Thank you, to everyone who helped us with this effort!!

I decided that rather than just drop off the last load of cans (all collected through my husband’s co-workers at Disney!!) I should spend some time at the Food Pantry and learn about this process and how these cans help the people of my community. I reached out to the director at the Immanuel Food Pantry in downtown Los Angeles who invited me to come down and work a day with her and her team.


These chairs would all fill up in a matter of minutes

I planned to go yesterday, and honestly, on the drive over I was frustrated with myself for adding yet another thing to a schedule that’s already too busy. I wished aloud that I had pushed this off until June… and then I turned the corner onto the street of the church. At 10 o’clock in the morning, a full hour and a half before the pantry opened, there was a line down the block. Older people, mothers, fathers, little babies and toddlers who could have easily been my sons. It was sobering. I was ashamed that I’d ever been upset about this commitment.


I was ushered inside and met all the other volunteers, most of which come weekly to help out in the pantry and know many of the families by name. I learned that there are two programs at the pantry: one for people who have a kitchen (and a place to prepare the food) and one for people who don’t (primarily homeless) who get “lunch bags”. I was put in charge of packing the lunch bags, all of which have pop top lids so you don’t need a can opener to get into them. A can of veggies, a can of fruit, a soup, and a “treat” usually a pudding or a jello, all wrapped up with love and a plastic spoon.

Lunch Bags

I was put in charge of these bags and worked the line by myself. Without direction I was painfully aware of how each choice I made for the bag would be someone’s meal for today or maybe the only meal for days. I tried to make them even out… so if someone got a small soup, I gave them peanut butter (a big “get” from the pantry) as their treat. If someone got chili, I tried to pair it with corn (my favorite combo) but even now I feel sad remembering these choices. I hope I chose right. I hope they were happy with their combination. Maybe they hated butterscotch pudding. Maybe the raisins would have made their day. I’ll never know.

Finished Lunch Bags

After lunch bags I helped pack the handouts for people with kitchens. The pantry encourages each recipient to bring their own reusable bag (yay for being green!) but we prepared little groups of what each family would get. Here’s what I will remember most… here’s what will stick with me… here’s what I will think of any time I complain about ANYTHING. Those families, and grand parents, and people my age: they waited in line for hours for four cans, some pasta and box of cereal. That’s it. That’s all. Whether there were seven kids or none at all that’s what they waited for. No idea of what the four cans would be, no option to trade them out if they don’t like garbanzo beans or would have preferred spaghetti noodles to a single size serving of macaroni and cheese. You get what you get.

The Ration

I was painfully aware of how many boxes of cereal we currently have in our pantry at home, or how many cans of vegetables. I was painfully aware of how thankful these people were for whatever they were getting and in contrast painfully aware of how frustrated I get over ridiculous things like Strabucks getting my order wrong.

I am greatly humbled.

It’s also important to point out that for anyone who thought a few cans wouldn’t help anything, please remember that a few cans is all anyone took home yesterday and they were grateful for it.

Thank You

On the way home I told my husband about this time at the pantry and I said “it was an awesome experience and it was a horrible experience”. Horrible because it’s hard to see, to be reminded of those of us who are struggling. The people with mental illness, or the grouchy old women, or the young man who wouldn’t take his eyes off his shoes, ashamed to be asking for help. But it was awesome because I needed to see all of that. I needed to be reminded that nothing, nothing, NOTHING is worth worrying about because my children are healthy and I can afford to feed them tonight. It’s that simple.

If you’re interested in donating to your local food pantry you can go to Feeding America and type in your zip code, they’ll tell you the nearest one. The other volunteers told me that small jars of peanut butter, canned tuna or chicken as well as bags of rice are the best thing you can donate as they’re always in short supply.