Walking away from the first focus group and training session, I was especially surprised by the ways in which, through means of our brief 2 hours session, the attendees had begun to build a sense of camaraderie. Immediately upon entering the room, one participant recognized another from receiving services at the food pantry. Spawning from their acquaintanceship, a number of participants then began to share advice about receiving services, such as what pantries were open at particular times and locations. Others ended the evening by offering a ride home to an attendee that had missed the bus. I have written in my project journal about an emerging theme of selflessness and gratitude in my interviews, and being witness to such acts verifies my prior assertions. Particularly, a common critique relates to the ability of the food assistance system to provide enough quality food to all patrons in need. Getting access to food is a personalized need, basic to one’s survival. Despite the personal nature of this critique (I need food, they don’t have enough food for me), many individuals discuss situations where they believe that others are in more dire need of food than themselves (children, elderly who cannot visit food pantries or kitchens). This shifts the experience of needing food away from the individual. In sharing one’s experience about accessing food, a communicative tension is crafted between such services relieving a personal need verses a collective need. In the context of the focus group session, while individuals were ultimately in attendance to receive personal monetary compensation, the act of being together as a collective spawned the forming of a community where selfless acts of sharing information and services was of primary interest.
Ultimately, I was overwhelmed with excitement (and some preparation anxiety) for what was to come of our project. The conversions about barriers of access were disheartening at minimum, but they did provide an excellent amount of empirical justification for our claims through means of dynamic, evolving group consensus. It was outstanding to see what group synergy really looks like at play! There were numerous times where individuals were talking over one another, and while some would stand, others would shout in agreement. There was little shared in relation to suggestions for the project’s direction, which was a bit disappointing, but the conversations did shed light on the most mutually meaningful definitions of the food insecurity problems in this community as articulated by actual voices of food insecure. Vocalizing their problems as part of the training workshop seemed to give a sense of personal legitimacy to what these individuals were experiencing. It left no questions in my mind regarding the communicative potential that a group of passionate individuals could have once brought together as a collective. And, it was especially moving to see the foundations of culture-centered work at play in a real project.