There were more people than I expected at the food bank on Saturday morning. I assumed that everyone would have gotten their social assistance deposits or cheques. I know my Ontario Works deposit came through but maybe the Ontario Disability Support Program cheques wouldn’t come until Monday.
I didn’t know whether or not they’d fixed their number problem of the previous week, so I made sure I knew my place in line this time. I’d brought a book to read but it was a cold and wet day and so I didn’t take it out of my bag.
I was glad to see Martina coming down the line with a box of numbers. I got 18 but I wasn’t disappointed since that was close to the number I would have gotten under the first come first serve system and it allowed me to step out line and wander around while I was waiting.
The random number system hasn’t stopped the same people from arriving early, but I think it’s become a bit of a social club. The early birds all hang out and smoke together. There is such a smoking culture in the food bank line up that one might almost think one was in prison.
Valdene the manager and Martina the door person brought out a shopping cart full of crates of tomatoes and laded them into the food bank van. It was the first time I’d seen produce leave the food bank other than in the possession of clients. Got the impression that they were returning the deadly nightshade cousins to either the Second Harvest or the Daily Bread. The prematurely silver haired volunteer was about to drive the van away and complained to Valdene about the fact that the food bank clients don’t stand in a straight line. He argued again for a barrier like they have for nightclub line-ups. But if they gave nightclub patrons numbers they wouldn’t line up there either.
Someone further back in the line said hi to me and I recognized that it was Helen, whom I’ve known since the 80s when we used to both work at OCADU (then just OCA). Helen uses a walker now and told me that she is just recovering from massive surgery. She said she didn’t want to go into the details on exactly what procedure she’d undergone but she was in the hospital for a few days. Helen is also a writer and she asked me if I’d done any readings lately. I told her about the Shab-e She’r poetry night and she asked me to send her the information. We chatted there in the line-up for about twenty minutes until I asked her were she lived and she told me that she was on Dundas, not far from St Michael’s Hospital. It seemed to me odd that she would come all the way to Parkdale to the food bank and I inquired why. She told me that she was not there for the food bank but for shiatsu and I realized she’d mistakenly thought the food bank queue was a line-up for PARC. The shiatsu was on the wrong foot, so to speak. She gave me her number and went over to wait by the PARC entrance. I gave Helen’s number 29 back to Martina.
Heinz Klein arrived with his guitar for the usual Saturday jam at PARC. He came up to say hello and joked about the food bank really being a blood bank that takes the black blood of food bank clients.
It was a little after 11:00 when my number was called. Bart was in front of me and it seems that when he’s indoors and at close quarters with people he looks at others directly when he speaks his usual bizarre phrases. A woman in front of him thought that he was talking to her and suddenly put her hands on her head as if she were trying to keep it from exploding.
A new and young, male volunteer became Bart’s helper at the shelves but lost control of him and Bart started taking one of each item, rather than one item from each shelf.
From the shelves I got a small jar of red bell pepper and cilantro salsa; a litre of cappuccino soy beverage; two little Fibre 1 brownies and a cinnamon bun of the same brand; a jar of strawberry-rhubarb jam; two small cans of maple style “baked” beans; a can of chickpeas and a tin of sardines.
My helper, the older Ukrainian lady, chastised the new volunteer for having left Bart to fend for himself at the last shelf, which is where they put the pasta and sauce. She told him that he to had stay with his clients until he passes them over to Angie. When I told her I didn’t want any pasta or sauce she said, “Okay we’re done.” and walked away.
While I was waiting behind Bart to shop at Angie’s section I looked over and noticed an elderly woman taking some of the bananas off the bunch that Sylvia had just given her, handing them back to her and asking for two more. As Bart was moving on he tried to give me his package of veggie cheese slices. I declined the offer, since those things taste disgusting.
Angie offered me milk, but I had some at home, so I declined. I took three eggs; two cups of pineapple Greek yogourt; a 450-gram container of smooth cottage cheese, another can of chocolate caramel whipped cream and an 850-gram container of Lactantia “Traditional Spread”. I wondered why Lactantia doesn’t call the product “margarine” since the same company also makes margarine. I don’t think it’s missing any ingredients required for the name. Margarine in Canada, unless it’s labelled as low cal has to have at least 80% fat. The Traditional Spread meets that requirement. It does have 5% more soya oil and 1.5% more dairy than Imperial Margarine but I can’t see or taste much difference. I notice that next year will be the 150th anniversary of the invention of margarine. It was the result of Napoleon offering a prize to any chemist that could invent a butter substitute for his navy. The beef tallow derivative that resulted was called “margarine” because it had the colour and lustre of pearls.
The meat offerings of whole chickens and packs of ham that had been available for the last month were gone and now Angie was back with the usual choices of frozen ground chicken or frozen chicken wieners. I turned them down because I’d rather have quality meat as long as I have a little extra to pay for it. Just as I was about to move on to the vegetable section, Angie declared, “You look like you’re into the Planet stuff!” “People tell me that all the time!” I joked. She reached into the fridge behind her and handed me a litre bottle of Happy Planet “Extreme Green Fruit Smoothie with Spirulina and Moringa”. She explained that she meant that I look like I’m into taking care of myself and then added, “It’s a compliment!” I’d thought that Spirulina and Moringa were singers for the boy band Menudo but it turns out that Spirulina is a cyanobacteria that has been eaten for centuries in Latin America and Moringa is a tree with lots of edible parts that is mostly grown in the Himalayan region of India.
I told Sylvia I would take everything she had but potatoes, because I have plenty of those. She gave me a couple of onions, two seedless cucumbers, an eggplant and a bag of Portobello mushrooms.
Well, the good meat is gone, but the shelves are still fairly well stocked, there’s quite a bit of dairy and this was the first time I’d ever gotten mushrooms from the food bank.