Food Bank: Holiday Food Collection Making a ‘Big Difference’

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With the help of her children, activist Judith Leist is filling an old school bus with nonperishable foods and assisting local families who need a break – and a good meal – this holiday season.

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I know what it’s like to worry about your children, to fear not being able to feed them or clothe them or provide a good home for them

A local food bank is distributing hundreds of pounds of donated food to less-fortunate families this holiday season thanks to the tireless efforts of local activist Judith Leist and her four children.

Even in the teeth of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, it’s easy for most Americans to take good fortune for granted. Compared to other countries, the standard of living here is so high that even when we’re on the rocks, certain comforts – including shelter, food and clothing – are a given. Alas, this is not always true for every member of the American community. During tough economic times, there are those who must make do without one or more of those basic comforts … and when it comes to the holidays, while many settle this year for fewer material pleasures, some families are just trying to survive.

Marie Judith Bijoux Leist understands the plight of the less-fortunate. A single mother of two young daughters and two college-aged boys, there have been times, she said, when she was very unsure about how she’d pay for next week’s groceries, or next month’s rent. Recognizing that many families in her community are still struggling with the aftereffects of the financial crisis, she determined to do everything she could to make sure those who need a hand this holiday season get it.

“I’ve been there,” Judith Leist said. “I’ve never been homeless, thank goodness, but I know what it’s like to worry about your children, to fear not being able to feed them or clothe them or provide a good home for them. It’s a terrible feeling and in a land with so many resources, nobody should ever have to go through that.”

This holiday season, Judith focused her efforts on food – and making sure local residents who needed assistance putting a holiday meal on the table had a place to turn. With the help of the local school district, which loaned an old school bus and donated $5,000 in supermarket gift certificates, Judith and her children launched the “Stuff a Bus” campaign, with the goal of filling the bus with canned goods and other nonperishable food items. The effort started two weeks before Thanksgiving, with the first wave of donations gifted to a local food bank in time for Turkey Day.

“That $5,000 was a great start,” Judith Leist said. “We were able to purchase a lot of canned goods and other critical items, like diapers and paper towels. Those items provided a better Thanksgiving holiday for several neighborhood families.”

After Thanksgiving, Judith’s daughters took the cause to their elementary school. They created homemade “Stuff a Bus” posters and fliers and urged their classmates to take the message home to their families, many of which responded with canned goods like soup and vegetables, or with cash donations or more supermarket gift cards.

Even after emptying the bus for Thanksgiving, the Leist family’s efforts are close to filling it again. Judith Leist said about three-quarters of the 20-passenger bus is “stuffed floor to ceiling” with grocery bags, and that’s without even converting the cash and gift cards into groceries. So far, she estimated, the drive has collected about $3,000 in cash and cards.

“What a blessed effort,” said Patrick Hogan, pastor of the local church that runs the food bank that received the first round of donations. “This is not a family of means, by any stretch of the imagination, but they still found it in their hearts to put others first and make sure their neighbors had what they needed to enjoy a healthy and comfortable holiday. And that’s what the holidays are all about, really, that sort of selflessness and caring. Judith Leist and her children are truly special people, and this food drive they’ve organized is really making a difference for a lot of less-fortunate families.”

The Leist family is accepting cash and food donations through Dec. 23 and plans to do a “massive shopping” early on Dec. 24, Judith Leist said. With the help of her sons and several food pantry volunteers, the contents of the bus will be distributed beginning around noon Dec. 24 and continuing through Christmas afternoon, and whatever’s left will go to the church food bank, Judith said.

“We’re not doing this so people will say ‘Wow, they’re such great people!’” Judith Leist said. “We’re doing this because there are people in our community who need it, and those needs are more important than whether or not we all get the perfume or video games we want this year. With the smallest change of fortune, that could be us on that food pantry line – it may be us someday. We’re doing this because that’s what members of a community do.”

About Judith Leist
Marie Judith Bijoux Leist is a musician and mother of four living in Raleigh, NC. Hailing originally from Glendale, Ariz., the self-professed “violin junkie” earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Phoenix and has performed in many venues nationally. An avid reader and fan of crossword puzzles, her other hobbies include tennis and antiquing.


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