COMMENTARY: Embracing the Turnabout

Mark Paxton of the Community Food Bank reflects on "the delightful magic" of turnabout, when fortunes or roles are suddenly and unexpectedly reversed

Some days, some people have to resign themselves to another day on the job; “that’s why they call it work,” you’ll occasionally hear.

But that’s not the way it plays out at Community Food Bank. Almost every day – and certainly every week – brings another reminder of the delightful magic of turnabout.

Turnabout occurs when fortunes or roles are suddenly and unexpectedly reversed. When a challenge with no solution looms, and then somehow turns into an undeniable victory, that’s turnabout. When that fourth quarter Hail Mary pass somehow lands in a wide receiver’s hands for the go-ahead touchdown, that’s turnabout.

It was on a warm Thursday afternoon when I picked up a call on the phone. “Do you accept donations from home gardens?” the caller asked. We most certainly do accept those donations. Fresh, vibrant produce is exactly what we like to see in our customers’ market baskets.

It wasn’t much later when a couple appeared with the fruits of their garden. I asked them if they’d ever visited our San Felipe Road offices and warehouse. They had not, but they welcomed the opportunity of a short tour. Before it ended, they’d asked to sign up to become volunteers. They had the generosity to think of sharing their garden’s bounty with others. They had taken the trouble to drive out to our offices near the municipal airport. They shared their time to learn more about how we share food with more than 4,500 San Benito County residents each month. They sought to volunteer their time. And do you know what they did after all that? They thanked us. Turnabout? You bet!

We had more work than available staff last Wednesday, so it fell to me to help bring bags of groceries to the people at Vista Meadows and Prospect Villa. These apartments next to Rancho San Justo School are populated largely with senior citizens living on limited, fixed incomes. There’s a vibrant community to be found in these apartment complexes. People chat with us and with one-another, inquiring about children and grandchildren, sharing stories and doting on their pets. We’re there to help give, not to receive. But each week, one resident makes sure she gives each of us an ice-cold bottle of water, and often a piece of fruit. Turnabout.

Every Friday, I make a couple of stops to meet with those among us with the very least. The people whose homes are tents or makeshift shelters in the San Benito River wash know the schedule, and each week we meet. It’s easy for many of us to forget that these people may not have a roof over their heads, but they have names, families and stories of their own. Every time I pull in to one of the stops in our time-worn van, there are greetings, and every time, someone offers to help me unload groceries. Every single time. Turnabout.

Just as we were about to close our offices for a week so we could conduct inventory and operate our benefit fireworks booth for Independence Day, a large check arrived in the mail from Hollister Women’s Club. The donation was completely unanticipated, and it arrived without a word of explanation. When I sought to thank club members this week, this is the note I got back from Club Co-President Donna Bakich:

“On behalf of the Women's Club of Hollister, I want to extend our appreciation to you and the folks at the Community Food Bank for all of your hard work, dedication, and good will as you serve those who need it most in our community. You are an asset and a blessing and we are grateful for each and every one of you… As Co-Presidents, Ms. Ralphie Hobbs and I love to hear about your successes and thanks for our club's donation as it assures us that we are doing good alongside you. We will be sure to share this with our club members at large and will praise them for allowing us to make such contributions through their fundraising efforts and volunteerism.  

“That being understood, if there is any other way the WCH can be of service to you at the Community Food Bank, please do not hesitate to let us know.”

Wait a minute! I was trying to thank you! Turnabout.

A recent talk with the San Benito County Chamber Ambassadors already has yielded offers from San Benito County’s business leaders to come to the warehouse to pitch in as volunteers. When we tried to thank the staff at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for a major grant that was vital in securing the purchase of our building last month, we were thanked in turn for allowing the foundation to be part of such good work. Turnabout.

And then there are Marilyn and Richard Ferreira of Hollister, who used to own the building we now own, and who waited many months for us to gather the funds to make the purchase, and who sold it to Community Food Bank well below its appraised value. How to begin to thank them when they keep thanking us for letting them be a part of the solution? Turnabout.

And that’s why it’s easy to greet each new dawn with fresh eagerness for another day on the job. If it all seems too much to believe, just come and see for yourself.

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Mark Paxton

I've been at this most of my life, and it still fascinates and challenges me. San Benito County can be a cruel mistress at times, but we can share in our love for her, even with all her quirks.