Being flexible and prepared is probably the best advice you’ll ever give yourself when you serve the homeless. It applies to all areas of your ministry, but none more so than the first service you will probably ever offer—food distribution.
You do it because you have a heart and can’t stand the thought of people going hungry. Nothing is more heart breaking than having to stop the good effort you started, so don’t take anything for granted. Don’t assume that solid food sources will remain consistent and solid. The homeless clients you serve got that way because of economic changes. Those changes can affect you too.
When you first start, you’ll probably be taking food from your own pantry and that of your friends. Be careful to not increase your services until you’re sure the food source can increase with you too. Don’t move from a small to a larger motel because you want to serve more, only to find you can’t serve anyone because your food donations dried up.
As your ministry progresses you’ll have more resources. Eventually you’ll even have that blessed commodity—money—to purchase food outright. When you file your paperwork and become a legitimate 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation you’ll be able to shop at local food banks, and, people will be more willing to donate to you because they can get a tax deduction for it.
When you can shop at a food bank it may seem like you’ve hit the lottery because they can have so many products available to you. They can, but sometimes they don’t because food banks are also subject to the mercurial whims of the economy.
To avoid disappointment and breaks in service always have alternative food sources in your bag of tricks. This is usually going to depend on the funds you have on hand and can range anywhere from asking your family and neighbors to help, to having your child’s school or your church do a food drive for you, to shopping somewhere other than the food bank.
While they cost more, investigate where the local “dollar stores” are in your neighborhood. They are a great alternative source for all kinds of nutritious food and hygiene products, and their shelves are almost always packed with choices.
Whatever you do, don’t get discouraged. Food is a basic need and very important to your clients, but your friendship and presence are important to them too. Don’t just stop visiting your motel if you have less food.
Keep going and be honest with the people. You’ll be surprised. They don’t expect you to perform “fishes and loaves” miracles. Keep coming with what you have. Keep visiting and socializing. It’s better to go with a couple of bags of oranges while you distribute jokes, kind words and hugs than to just stop going because you think you don’t have enough.
Your ability to secure items to provide your clients is going to go up and down over the years. The only thing you can guarantee is your continued presence. And most times, that’s enough because in the final analysis, it’s your kindness and how you made them feel that people remember, not what you gave them.