Fighting hunger is a community endeavor

Mary Soyenova
Special To The Black Mountain News

Every Tuesday, by 9 a.m., volunteers have gathered in the St. James Episcopal Church common room where they put up chairs and tables covered with cheery checked tablecloths. The big Bounty & Soul truck has dropped off boxes of produce and we begin to sort through it all, putting fruits and vegetables into baskets to be set out on the tables.

In the kitchen, the coffee pot is on and there is fresh bread, jam and slices of fruit. The talk is animated as produce is packaged into containers and passed out to be put on the tables. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, melons and cabbages all are boxed and wrapped.

A Bounty & Soul volunteer helps a man as he passes through the line at a Tuesday market at St. James Episcopal Church in Black Mountain.

Those that don't pass muster are put into five-gallon buckets and become compost, which along with others, are hauled away by another volunteer with a truck.

Out in the hall, bushel baskets filled with squash, potatoes, onions, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes are set on the tables. On another table, boxes of salad greens are stacked, bags of kale and collards are lined up. Next comes the fruit table with bananas, oranges, lemons, limes, berries, apples and often exotic fruit--kiwi, mangoes, pomegranates.

Other foods are offered, often fresh eggs and whole grains---even dog and cat food! Because these are donations, there's always something different.

Diana McCall will bring armloads of fresh greens and herbs from the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden, all of which go into baskets and are labeled.  Recipes in English and Spanish are put on the baskets.

People come through the door, take a number and find a chair.

Ali Casparian, Bounty & Soul founder (never doubt for a minutes that one woman can change the world), is busy cooking up something which begins to smell heavenly--ginger squash soup, or garbanzo-sweet potato stew, all ways to cook vegetables that may be unfamiliar.

What can you do with a spaghetti squash? Ali and other cooks take their time to explain. Even the children get into the act, making snacks to share. 

While things are simmering, a lecturer comes to talk about healthier choices, simple exercises and ways to make small changes. One woman has lost 78 pounds on a plant-based diet and a yoga class is going on in another room. 

After everyone has had a chance to sample whatever delight has been cooked up, numbers are called and people line up with boxes and bags to be filled with produce. As they go down the line, people pick out the produce they will carry home and cook for their families, just like a regular market.

A little boy comes for a banana, looks up and asks with sincere eyes, "Is it organic?"

All ages, one a 90 year old man to whom we all sang Happy Birthday, moms, grandpas, couples and singles, all are welcomed and sent home with boxes overflowing with healthy, nourishing food. As a retiree, I live on a very reduced income.

I may not have much money, but I am a wealthy woman, leading a rich life as part of a community that gives with such generosity of heart.

Once everyone has gone through the line, clean-up begins. The chairs and tables are folded and put away, tablecloths wiped and folded. The floor is swept and mopped, the garbage hauled away, left-over produce is loaded onto the truck, the kitchen is wiped down and tidied.

We all leave tired, but happy that we have made a contribution to our community. For me, Tuesday is the best day of the week. Bounty & Soul does this five days a week. 

The cooperation and devotion of all the people involved in this wonderful program is spectacular, knowing that the lives of so many people are touched by their generosity of spirit.

Nowhere that I know of is "Love thy neighbor" better demonstrated.