On a cold and rainy November morning at a church parking lot in SE Austin, Larry is one of the first persons waiting for the arrival of the Central Texas Food Bank (CTFB) mobile food pantry truck. Larry has made his way from his North Austin apartment by two bus connections, his main mode of transportation in Austin. After the truck rumbles into the Prince of Peace Lutheran parking lot, Larry helps the driver, Doug, unload and ready the palleted food items for distribution.
Larry will work both sides of the same table this bleak morning. He is a willing volunteer who helps with distribution, and like many others who gather in the lot, a grateful receiver of the bounty brought by the truck.
CTFB carries out seventeen mobile food pantry distributions each month in Travis County. Helping out at the mobile distributions is what Larry calls his part-time job. “I try to make all of them where the bus can take me—about seven or eight a month.” When he needs to, he takes groceries home with him.
Larry says that from his earliest memories he’s suffered with twitching and trying to control his movements. “Sometimes I’ll try to hold a glass of water, and . . . I can’t hold it.” He also deals with high blood pressure. Because of his condition—his physical tics are fairly constant—he doesn’t like getting his picture taken. But as long he’s able to pose with another person, he’ll smile for the camera. (Thanks to mobile food pantry volunteer and UT student Edith for posing with Larry.)
Born and raised in the Austin area, Larry graduated from Lockhart High School in 1981. He worked construction jobs and in numerous restaurants as a younger man. As he got older, his condition worsened, making it difficult for him to stay steadily employed. He subsequently filed for disability.
A few years back, he happened upon some commotion in a parking lot close to his apartment in the St. Johns neighborhood. He investigated the scene and saw a truck with its gate down, and people gathered around. It was a CTFB mobile pantry food distribution. He introduced himself to the CTFB site lead, Anchal, who asked Larry if he spoke any Spanish. He said sure—and as if pre-ordained—she asked if he could help out distributing frozen meat. He was immediately hooked, and he’s been helping out ever since. Larry came to the initial Bread For All mobile food pantry distribution at Prince of Peace on East Oltorf in June 2017, and made its monthly distribution permanent in his “part-time job” schedule.
“The thanks and the smile you get from people—it means a lot. You can be in the food line, upset and thinking about something that happened to put you in a bad mood. But you see a person across the table who talks to you very nice, with a smile.” He pauses and his face brightens, “And, you forget about it!” He says he tries to be that person who brings a bit of joy to the food line, whichever side he’s on.
“That’s what I like about being here. Some people can bring the goodness out of you, just with a smile or a couple of kind words.”
About Larry’s volunteer service at the various mobile distribution sites, Anchal says, “Larry is a great help. Most of our volunteers are first-timers—which is great—but Larry really knows our program well and can step up and take on any roll that we need.” Whether distributing food at the tables, helping to supply the tables from the pallets, or assisting neighbors by taking their groceries to their cars or rides—Larry can do it all. And, he’s happy to do it. “Thank you all,” he says in response to a question about why he volunteers, “for the opportunity to help out.”
This cold morning in the Prince of Peace parking lot, the rain, although light, hasn’t let up. Larry is one of the last persons at the distribution site—which is typical—as he helps Doug and Anchal and a few other volunteers with the takedown and clean up.
Moments later, Larry walks away with two backpacks carefully strapped down to a wheeled suitcase. He goes to the bus stop on East Oltorf with some groceries in his packs, and with plans to show up the next morning in Montopolis—for the CTFB’s mobile food pantry distribution there.