Every year outside the Bread of Life food pantry at 1301 S. Galena, there’s a holiday scene that plays out on the cold, hard concrete sidewalk.
It’ll play out again Friday night and into Saturday afternoon as the pantry gives away turkeys and fixings to poor people.
It’s a scene that still bothers pantry director Donna Pinaire and the volunteers at the pantry a little bit, even after decades of seeing it.
“You see children, you see elderly people, you see people with various disabilities,” Pinaire said. “You see some people standing there without coats. We try to give them coats and blankets if we can. When we see people without coats, we hate that.”
The Living Word Outreach Church, a congregation of only 150, has put together this holiday gift to the poor for 23 years.
The church plans to hand out 1,700 turkeys and meal ingredients on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Every year of doing this is hand-to-mouth for the pantry, Pinaire said. It sometimes gets government grants and sometimes donations.
“And we did a silent live auction that netted us $10,000 this year,” she said.
But over the years, a lot of the money that finances the $30,000 food gift comes from the pockets of Living Word congregants, Pinaire said.
“And God always provides,” she said.
People will begin to gather the night before, putting up pup tents, laying down blankets to sleep on as they hold a place in line. Pinaire has pleaded with them to not show up until 6 a.m on Saturday, but a hundred or so people show up long before then.
After that, the line snakes around on the sidewalk for hours as the pantry passes out the turkeys and fixings.
Pinaire has pointed out before that staff members at the pantry and the congregation are not foolish about how they view these people.
Pantry staff members insist, as they pass out food month after month, that people seeking food from the Bread of Life must register with the pantry and show an ID and proof of income. Most congregation members, Pinaire has said, are social and fiscal conservatives who don’t believe government welfare programs do much good.
But Pinaire has also said that Jesus urged people repeatedly to help the poor. And she has said that most of the people who seek food from the pantry are truly disabled, that many really are elderly, that many are children, that many really are employed and industrious.
Most of them are not takers, she has said. Most are not lazy.
Most of the congregation that makes the annual gift possible earn low or moderate incomes, Pinaire said.
“But they are generous.”