By Tam Maddock
It is the fourth Monday of the month and that means Ruby’s Pantry, a small non-profit located in Breckenridge, Minnesota will be open business and today, I thought I would check out this place for myself. As I round the corner of a little street in in this small town I’m struck by the hustle and bustle that captures my senses. What I’m seeing is volunteers: Nearly 100 of them! They are weighing and packing produce; they are ripping open opening boxes; and they are working a forklift to empty a truck on this early April day. The volunteers are all sizes, ages and vary in physical capabilities; they are all moving fast! “Participants,” not “the hungry” or “the needy” is the language used for those participating in the food program. There is definitely something unique to this story. I wanted to ask where I could help, but I feared it would disrupt this efficient machine. Everyone knew their job and soon the large semi-trailer was empty.
I immediately like this place. What I am hearing is friendly chatter from smiling faces and the sound of neighbors cooperating. What I’m smelling, amongst the familiar smell of cardboard boxes, a meal being prepared across the room where an open door leads to a kitchen. In it, a lady called Carrin is working, who is the mother of the girl I came to meet. Carrin directs the volunteer kitchen staff as they prepare to feed the volunteers. What I’m tasting, before the food is served, is excitement and anticipation from the volunteers who eagerly await the participants’ arrival. Then, I see Lianna, the subject of the assignment I had created for myself to visit this special space. I quickly realize her volunteers need her and questions from me will need to wait. She has a job to do. Lianna is the youngest site coordinator in the country for this non-profit called Ruby’s Pantry. I learned about Lianna when reading her college scholarship application to the ND FFA Foundation, or I should say, I read about Lianna Seibold. She is a Wahpeton FFA member and one of only a handful of female members. She was much too humble to admit she helped coordinate the pantry, stating only that she worked there. That fact was revealed to me by retired Wahpeton ag advisor Al Giese. At the age of 18, Lianna is being asked question after question.
“Where should we put the product coming off the truck?
“What’s the best placement of items?”
“Where should we put the product coming off the truck?
Lianna takes it all in stride, calmly offering answers and bringing order to all matters.
I fire off a few quick questions. “How many volunteers typically show up?”
“Sixty to one hundred,” Lianna says.
“How many people will you serve tonight?”
“We have just over 200 who have pre-registered, but there are always drop-ins.”
“How does this work? How does one qualify for assistance?”
“If you eat, you’re eligible.”
I overhear her discussing the night’s allotment to the participants and surely my ears have failed me. Lianna reports that tonight’s allotment starts with twenty pounds of chicken! Twenty pounds!
“Each?!” I embarrassingly interject.
Her smile was all she used as a confirmation as she proceeded with her job at hand.
Service to one’s neighbor is in the Seibold family’s blood. Seibold children and grandchildren have worked side-by-side ensuring those needing a little help putting food on the table in the Wahpeton community and surrounding areas are provided for. Each Seibold famly member has a part in the process: Grandma Eileen registers the volunteers; Grandpa Mike is the main forklift operator and greets participants; sister Olivia helps register participants; sister Syrina helps in the kitchen and in the product line; and the twins Jenna and Julya (when they are done with practice) fill in where the help is needed.
My experience continues as Olivia and Lianna bring me through the entire building and space. They both smile as they give me a tour of a garage that was built in their father’s memory which houses pantry supplies. Even throughout trying times, like the sudden death of their father and son, Eric Seibold, to a brain aneurysm in 2016, they stick together and find strength within each other to serve people they know could simply use a hand.
Ruby’s Pantry started as Home and Away Ministries initially collecting toys for mission trips to Mexico. Soon toy donations became food donations and then an outlet for corporate surplus. They have distribution centers in Minnesota and Wisconsin but serve communities well into North Dakota. In 2014, 30 employees and thousands of volunteers of Ruby’s Pantry distributed nearly 12,000,000 pounds of food to 128,618 families and shared an additional 5,253,373 pounds of food to other food banks.
I watch as the night comes together. The semi unloaded and the product carefully stacked. I’ve managed to not be in the way by working in the kitchen filling dessert cups with ice cream to feed the volunteers. As volunteers are fed, participants are greeted and treated to a movie in the sanctuary. I wander in and see fifty or so people of all ages who’ve come early to take in the evening’s film and gather donations. The doors open and I watch as participants are met with a welcoming smile and a warm greeting from Grandpa Mike. They work their way through the line with carts and boxes. Eager volunteers pile on the allotment of food and I smile as I see the youngest volunteers helping push carts and load vehicles.
I am nothing short of inspired by this evening’s activities. As I pull away from Inspiration Church and Ruby’s Pantry, the last stanza of the FFA Creed echoes in my head, “I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life and that I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task.” I search my thoughts for what more I could do to make a difference and the last of my senses is engaged. I am touched by what I “feel.” Pride. Pride for the FFA members, like Lianna, who have chosen and continue to choose to make a difference.
To contribute to the success of Ruby’s Pantry or utilize their services visit: RubysPantry.org.