Much of my time at my agency placement, Metro Caring is spent in the Community Navigation offices. Every person who comes through the doors of Metro Caring meets with a community navigator, a volunteer who has been specially trained to know as much as they can about Metro Caring so that they can offer all of the other services that Metro Caring provides. These services include nutrition classes, health services, financial couching, ID vouchers, and job training programs to name a few. If the participant needs something that Metro Caring does not provide, the navigators have the resources to point them to a different organization that does provide it. One of the questions that I ask every participant that I see as a community navigator is: “After consuming food from Metro Caring do you notice any improvement in your stress level?”
While we can all understand at a basic level that being hungry and worrying about where your next meal will come from would be a cause of great stress, I had never experienced stress around food before. Sure, there were times in college where I had probably spent a little too much money on yet another pair of yoga pants so I was unable to get my weekly Pizza X, but I have never had to worry about food the way Metro Caring participants worry about food. And I still don’t have to, but I am experiencing very different, stressful feelings surrounding food since coming to Denver.
A huge goal of the Denver YAV/DOOR site is to not provide charity but to live in solidarity with the people that we serve. One of the ways that we exercise this is by living on food stamps. When we first arrived we were given a small food budget to last us until we could get our first stipend and apply for SNAP benefits with proof of our income. Needless to say, that food money did not last us very long and we found ourselves with at least a week, maybe two before our food stamps would come in.
Obviously no one at DOOR would actually let us starve, and we have not come close to starving or even being hungry at any point, but I’ve found the entire situation to be very stressful. I find myself worrying about little things like if I can survive without butter? I find myself getting territorial about community food, feeling the urge to hide bagels in my room just so I make sure that there is food around that I like to eat when I want to eat it. I find myself being extremely judgmental of the housemate who uses community funds to buy something unnecessary like ice cream.
During one of these in between weeks, we went to Metro Caring to get food. I got to see the place that I spend every day from the point of view of a participant. Because I work there, I was able to get us an appointment easily, something that, despite the best efforts of the Metro Caring staff and volunteers, is not always easy for our participants. We arrived and waited to see a navigator then waited to go through the market where we got excellent food and the produce we crave but does not grow in our garden. The whole experience was a huge stress reliever and I know we were all grateful for the food we got at Metro Caring and the kindness we were shown by all the staff and volunteers who stayed late on a Tuesday night to provide access to nutritious food for those who work and cannot come during the day.
The trip to Metro Caring was everything myself and my housemates needed after weeks of either unhealthy food or meals that involved too much zucchini and the trials of trying to get food stamps while having a full-time job which caused us to miss important phone calls, not to mention letters informing us of the interview date and time coming in the mail on the date of the interview but after the time. So yes, Metro Caring and other hunger relief agencies are more than just food providers to those who need it, they provide peace of mind to those experiencing poverty and have stress that I am only experiencing an ounce of.