Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Kelly, a first-time volunteer at our Hand Up Youth Food Pantry’s distribution at St. Paul’s Cathedral. She was overflowing with thoughts about her experience, and I asked her if she’d be willing to share them on my blog:
I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral near Balboa Park to begin my afternoon at the Hand Up distribution. A big truck pulled up full of food and four tables were quickly set up by staff. Before the Hand Up staff had arrived at St. Paul’s, they’d been busy back at the JFS office, loading hundreds of food bags onto the truck. The bags were divided into two groups: cooking and non-cooking. It didn’t occur to me that some people wouldn’t have the ability to heat up or cook food. There were some kosher, gluten-free, diabetic and other special dietary needs bags, too.
A JFS case manager was there, and she told me that she comes to the distributions every week to try to identify those who could be helped by other JFS services and to follow up with people she’s talked to in the past. She advises people how to apply for CalFresh (food stamps), get ID cards, driver’s licenses, bus passes, and much more. I learned that one reason many people need bus passes is so they can go to other distributions to get more food.
Once everything was set up, everyone found a job in the assembly line. Some new volunteers were in charge of putting five bagels in each bag. Another person, who had been volunteering for four years, put a few onions and apples in each bag. A volunteer from a substance-abuse rehab center and I scooped rice into individual bags. When people moved through the line, they got one of each bag.
It was overwhelming to see all these people, both homeless and employed, young and old, waiting in line to pick up a few bags of food—and they were so gracious. The JFS case manager explained that sometimes people have a job and enough money to pay their rent, but not enough to buy food. Usually when people think of “the hungry” they think of homeless people. But this was not the case.
There was a young woman in line who was smiling and making conversation with everyone. She was unemployed, looking for a job, and was thrilled to stumble upon us giving out food because she really needed it. I also remember a mom–with her two cute little kids who were just bouncing around–without a clue as to why they were there.
I’m grateful for my time volunteering at the distribution. It felt good to know I was helping fellow San Diegans, and it reminded me that there are things more important than myself in this world.
I hope reading about Kelly’s experience at the Hand Up Youth Food Pantry distribution was meaningful to you. She told me that she’s looking forward to coming back and bringing some of her friends next time. Volunteers like Kelly–people who generously donate their time to work at food distributions, help sort donations, assemble food bags, conduct food drives, and pick up donations–are what make the Pantry so successful. Last year, Hand Up provided the hungry in San Diego with 38,805 bags of non-perishable grocery items, 9,600 pounds of bread, 9,434 pounds of frozen meat, and 107,685 pounds of fresh produce, for a grand total of 359,085 pounds of food assistance equivalent to 280,535 meals.
Interested in getting involved? We’d love to have you. Please visit www.jfssd.org/handupvolunteer to learn more.