Never before have I purchased something as useful from a religious institution as the blue pompom-and-feathered fly swatter I purchased from Catholic Charities of West Tennessee.
Let’s backtrack. This was my third day in Memphis and I woke up bright and early, ready to seize the day. Being one of the few car-less Memphians, and the only non-tourist in all of the state to take the trolley as an actual means of transportation, I called up ‘Lyft’- a community initiative in which individual members looking to make an extra buck pick you up and take you where you need to go. It is also a great way to meet interesting Memphians who are involved in community and, more often than not, they know more about the place you are going to than you do. That was the case for me as my Lyft driver described in detail all the incredible services that Catholic Charities of West Tennessee offers. His vivid explanations made me even more excited for the day to unfold.
After saying goodbye to my new Lyft friend, I arrived at CCWTN and met up with Kat, an awesome Volunteer Odyssey participant who recently returned to the U.S. after 3 months living in Peru with Catholic nuns. Needless to say, an awesome person to volunteer with. We immediately hit it off and were ready to rumble. We met up with Al and Ronny, two longtime Fig Tree volunteers who know the ins and outs of well, everything Fig Tree related. Together we drove to the Mid
After listening intently to Al’s description about the Food Bank’s distribution methods and partner agencies, we later transitioned into a game of “Who-can-find-the-weirdest-food-here?” Kat ended up bringing home the gold with a tin of powdered goats milk. Delicious.
Then, after loading the truck with an array of foods ranging from canned vegetables to starches to soy proteins, we headed back to CCWTN. Back at the pantry, we were introduced to Gloria, the food pantry’s only employee. (It was hard to fathom that such an incredible organization that did so much in the community only had one employee. Goes to show the power of volunteers!) Together we created small bags of food that would be handed out daily to individuals experiencing homelessness, as well as bags of food for families in need.
What made the bag assembling experience so memorable was having the chance to hear Gloria’s life story. As a cancer survivor, Gloria’s journey and struggle to stay positive in the face of adversity, and how she turned to her church and faith in order to help her through it, was truly uplifting and inspirational. It never ceases to amaze me how faith and service can serve as such a light in times of darkness. Hearing Gloria explain the importance of attitude, staying positive, and doing good for the community, and the effect that it can have on an individual in terms of not only the spiritual and emotional, but also physical health, was incredibly moving, and a message that I took to heart and will remember as I move forward in life.
At the end of the day, Al and Peggy Stehling, the Fig Pantry’s volunteer coordinator, gave us a tour of the building and showed us some of the other services that CCWTN provides to the community, including an awesome clothes pantry, services for veterans, immigration services, and more! She also spoke about the different ‘day of service’ opportunities that CCWTN hosts. During its last ‘day of service,’ the CCWTN had hosted a community craft project that involved ‘beautifying’ fly swatters with pompoms and ribbons, and selling them as a fundraiser for CCWTN. Of the hundreds that were created, fewer than 15 remained, so I quickly pounced on my opportunity to purchase one! Let me tell you, not being a native ‘Southerner’ made getting used to the sheer size and persistence of the bugs in Memphis one of my biggest challenges. Needless to say, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to buy something I needed so badly, while also contributing to an awesome cause. Now every time I look at my fly swatter, I am reminded of my volunteer experience with CCWTN.
We were also extremely fortunate to have been volunteering on a day full of celebration. As it turned out it was Gloria’s birthday and another Fig Tree pantry volunteer, Melinda, had also recently had a birthday, so the whole staff was ready to celebrate with cake, balloons, and joy. My favorite part of the celebration was a tradition that the Fig Tree staff members and volunteers have of writing and reciting a personalized poem about the birthday boy or girl. From listening to the poem and seeing how the staff members acted towards one another, it was clear that the CCWTN community was a family.
It was then that I understood what I loved so much about Fig Tree Pantry. It was the way that the people worked together. In my opinion, the way a staff operates and functions completely shapes the experience both for volunteers and clients. The organizational culture is core when fulfilling a non-profit’s mission, and as a volunteer, you can certainly feel the difference when a non-profit’s staff respect each other and function as a team, compared to when it functions as separate units. The end result of the team/family mentality? A better functioning and more efficient organization, as is evident by the incredible and wide reaching work of CCWTN. I will never forget the respect, love, devotion, and passion of all the volunteers and staff members at Fig Tree and I am excited to be reunited with them in the near future at their next volunteer opportunity!
Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Mira Biller is the intern at Volunteer Odyssey and is passionate about a variety of social justice issues. She especially loves connecting people with organizations that will be mutually beneficial and helping to create a better and more connected community. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org