Once every year I request client stories from our Mobile Food Pantry sites. These are the stories you all hear, read, and talk about when discussing what food insecurity looks like for our clients across the state. When I read them, I see the common trend of job loss, homelessness, grandparents raising grandchildren, and choosing between rent and food. However, this last time, I realized there is a hidden tale within the client stories, and one we do not talk about as often.
It’s the story of our site volunteers. They take the time and energy to coordinate the distribution, find additional volunteer help, secure a distribution site and on and on to ensure that client’s right in their own backyard have access to food. Many of them have full-time jobs or other commitments, but they always find the time to lend a hand.
And each client story sent to me is not just the story of the individual being helped, but written by a volunteer telling a story. It is written from their own perspective and conveyed with their own emotions about helping the hungry. You read and witness through their own words the commitment and the impact these volunteers have in our community.
The volunteers write about the connections they make with the clients and the friendships formed. They write about becoming so connected to the individuals in need that they take their own precious time to seek out other resources for them such as clothing and rent assistance. And believe me, not every situation is simple or easy, and can often be overwhelming for clients and volunteers both. But those dedicated volunteers keep coming back to try to help solve complicated problems, issues and feelings that clients struggle with every day.
One volunteer explains it best, “So today I turned 56 and increased our food from Roadrunner by 10%. With the stress of it all, I wonder sometimes how I can keep doing this. Sometimes I come home and cry, swear, and vow never to go back. I then remember someone who is homeless, came to the distribution late, and received leftovers from the leftovers, then thanked me and blessed me – and I know I’ll be back.”
It isn’t always completely perfect or go as planned, but these volunteer efforts continue on because of that one story that tugs at their heart and reminds us all that we are in it together…good and bad or difficult and easy. And for the briefest of moments, the isolation we feel as individuals is suspended for an hour or two when people come together to help. It helps us remember we aren’t alone and we need one another.
Alissa Barnes is the Mobile Food Pantry Manager at Roadrunner Food Bank.