Prelude: James O’Toole

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

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It’s strange how this quote from Socrates popped into my head as I sat down to write the prelude to my Volunteer Odyssey week. My college Philosophy professors would be so pleased that I remembered this quote from my days at CBU many, MANY years ago! I’m not sure what made me think of it, but after I reflected for a bit, I thought it was quite appropriate. I have had a lot of time recently to examine my life, and through much discernment, came to the conclusion that it was time for a change. After being laid off from a successful career spanning over 27 years with a marketing services company, I decided to take the opportunity to move back to my hometown of Memphis, and work on a career change. While I was grateful for my experience in the corporate world, my job had gotten to the point where it was just a job, and was lacking – lacking depth, lacking reward, and lacking a sense of fulfillment. I wanted a career that at the end of the day, I knew I made a difference in someone’s life, and helped my community. But how do I accomplish this,

after being away from Memphis for over 18 years? That’s when I learned about Volunteer Odyssey. I am so thankful for getting connected with this organization, and I am excited to see what I learn from the experiences during the next week. I look forward to learning about the many non-profit organizations in town, and hope to find the perfect place to start a new volunteer relationship, and who knows, maybe even find a new career.

I hope you will follow me on this journey!

– James O’Toole

If you like our work, please DONATE to keep it going!


Want the insider story and more pictures about James’s journey? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!

Looking for great volunteer opportunities in Memphis? Check out our calendar of volunteer opportunities.

 

Visiting volunteers use Volunteer Odyssey Calendar to connect with Memphis

 

Sometimes, when you’re traveling, the best way to get to know the city you’re visiting is to volunteer.  And that’s exactly what one group from Utah did this July while visiting Memphis.

They found their experience through Volunteer Odyssey’s Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities on our website.  It lists hundreds of opportunities across the cities, seven days a week, at all times of the day. Through our calendar, this group found the perfect volunteer opportunity at Catholic Charities of West Tennessee. Christine Hash, Manager of Social Enterprises and Community Engagement, said the group was looking for a way to connect while in Memphis and the calendar helped them find the perfect opportunity.

This group of volunteers from Utah uses Volunteer Odyssey's Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities to connect with a cause in Memphis
This group of volunteers from Utah found their perfect volunteer opportunity in Memphis using Volunteer Odyssey’s Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities. They spent the day volunteering with one of our non-profit partners, Catholic Charities of West Tennesse. 

“They never would have found out about us if it wasn’t for your Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities. Thanks so much for continuing to spread the word about our volunteer opportunities and for giving us the opportunity to add ours to your calendar,” said Hash in an e-mail to Volunteer Odyssey.

The nine from Utah joined more than 70 other volunteers for “Volunteer Saturday,” helping sort clothes for CCWTN’s mobile outreach programs.

Catholic Charities of West Tennessee is the social services arm of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis. They serve people of all ages and all walks of life through their mobile food pantry, clothing closet, veterans services and social enterprise work.

They continue to put volunteer opportunties on the Volunteer Oddyssey Calendar and are always seeking more help.

For a compete list of volunteer opportunities across Memphis visit our volunteer calendar atwww.volunteerodyssey.com/calendar.

 

Alchemy at the Memphis Public Library

Note from Volunteer Odyssey: We’re featuring a series of guest bloggers who’ll share their volunteer experiences in the community. Today’s post comes from Herman P Markell – an extremely dedicated volunteer at the Memphis Public Library. 

Alchemy at the Memphis Public Library
by Herman P Markell

Everything that follows is based on the fact the Memphis Public Library System is one of the key institutions for life enhancement of all Memphians, and its continued growth will have a major positive impact on successfully improving our lives in the future. Just come to Central Library any morning at 830 AM to see people gathering to enter at 10 AM opening. It happens every day.

In 1958, when I returned to Memphis, after being honorably discharged from the US Air Force, I went to work at Parts Distributors Warehouse, later renamed CARQUEST Distribution Center, and stayed for 53 years.

During those years, I volunteered at the Jewish Community Center, United Way and many other organizations in the Jewish and general community, fundraising , committee and Board responsibilities and leadership roles in some.

In 1993, I volunteered to read on the Memphis Public Library’s FM station for the visually impaired, WYPL, 89.3, and continue to do so to this day. 1533 hours of broadcasts in the first 20 years. I love the books I read and my enjoyment doubles knowing I’m helping someone else enjoy as well.

About 5 years ago, I volunteered to help Friends of the Library’s May book sale, and found out what and how a small handful of Friends’ volunteers continue to have an annual positive influence on our Library’s budget, approximating $400,000 annually! And I knew I had to be a part of it.

Herman in high speed. Photo credit: Memphis Public Library

Herman in high speed. Photo credit: Memphis Public Library

Since then, I have averaged 1,200 or more hours a year, sorting through approximately 325,000 donations and Library discards annually which turn into this amazing amount of money for our Library.  And this is how we do it, with a small number of volunteers, and 3 paid, part time employees.

We cull material we cannot use and send to a local recycler. Last year, we kept 74 tons of mixed paper out of the landfill. Next we choose materials we cannot monetize and give them to government agencies and non profits. We have about 24 active clients, the largest being the Books for Busses program, who make them available to their customers, from bookcases in each of the 3 City bus terminals, FREE. They average giving away about 500 books a month. Hospitals, Church Health Center, local jails, prisons, and many schools and others throughout Shelby County, as well as Little Free Libraries for children all over the City. Our donations totaled over 15,000 pieces last year to these clients.

Then we begin the process of turning the rest into dollars. And all profits go directly to our Library system.

Our huge biannual community book sales are held at Benjamin L Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar, where highest price is $3.00. We have 18,000 items or more on display and thousands of customers attend the 2 day events.

The next level is Second Editions, often described as “the best used bookstore in the Mid South.”

It is located in the lobby of Central Library, and has constantly refreshed inventory of about 15,000 pieces, average price a bit over $3. Special sections include  children, teens, non fiction, hard and paper backed fiction, romance novels, advanced readers copies, signed books, Memphis themed books, vintage paperbacks, and collectors editions, and more. 2 part time staff and a number of dedicated volunteers are very attentive to customers seven days a week.

The most valuable books are sold through Amazon, and MEMFOL books, our internet name, and we maintain a 5 star rating for customer satisfaction. Visit our Amazon Store.

Jim in the "Amazon Room"

Jim in the “Amazon Room”. Photo Credit: Memphis Public Library

There are over 13,000 books in inventory, new titles added daily, and is the fastest growing profit center we have. Most sales are shipped in the continental US, but we have shipped internationally as well, with negotiated delivery costs. Sale prices go from $4 sheet music to books and sets over $500. Great operation, with another small crew of volunteers and our other part time employee.

And one more step. Almost half of our financial impact is in cost avoidance for Library collection additions. All Friends inventory is available first to Library staff who constantly check to see if we have received any books that can put into Library inventory, rather than purchase. At an average library acquisition cost of $23 per book, we save the library a huge amount each year.

All this from a group of people who are knowledgeable, hard working and delight in doing the impossible, turning dross into gold. We are Alchemists; and all for our Memphis Public Library System.

We only solicit the general community to join Friends of the Library, $10 a year, all of which goes directly to the Branch of your choice. They spend that money enhancing their customers’ experience, and furnish materials not covered in their budget.

I always loved books and bargain sales. In working with Friends of the Library (FOL), I get to enjoy both of these!  Friends of the Library helps to get donations and turn them into money for the library through our discounted book sales. We also provide lots of books for non-profit organizations that need them.  I’ve always loved doing something enjoyable that can benefit others at the same time. Volunteering at the library lets achieve this.  And I have been so blessed in my life, that I want to do things for others, who may not be as fortunate.

You can see why we are so dedicated, and want you to help. How?

Keep donating your books to the Library, large quantities to Central dock area where Staff will unload your car or truck, at 3030 Poplar. Smaller donations can be taken to your local branch. And attend our twice a year book sales for great bargains and a fun experience. And get amazing values on Second Edition purchases. Join as a Friend. And if any of this really motivates you to want to become one of the best and most productive group I’ve ever seen, call Terrice Thomas, our Volunteer Coordinator, at 415-2840, and she’ll make it happen. We have a variety of times to suit your schedule.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to describe the amazing work of Memphis Friends of the Library. Join with us in any of the ways I’ve listed. And tell someone else about us.


Are you looking for great volunteer opportunities in Memphis?
Check out our Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities.

If you like our work, please DONATE to keep it going!


Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!

 

Visions of a Big Mac: Serving the Homeless of Memphis

Visions of a Big Mac
Serving the homeless of Memphis
Guest Blog Post by Jeff Hulett

A little more than a month ago at Neighborhood Church where my family and I are congregants, our pastor, Robert Grisham, challenged the church to think outside the box about giving this Christmas. He asked us to think about what God was calling us to do this holiday season.

Then, he did something a little unexpected.

He called up ten of us from the pews and gave us each an envelope. Inside was a $100 bill. You should’ve heard some of the kids’ (and adults’!) reactions.

Priceless!

Clearly, this money wasn’t meant for me or the others standing in front of the church, although I certainly could have put that cash to good use. My wife Annie and I just welcomed our second baby into our family, and that $100 could have really strengthened our coffee fund!

But before my mental cup was brewed, Robert went on to say that the money was for our Kingdom assignment.

Translation: this money is for us to do something good.

He gave some examples of what people had done in the past and sent us back to our seats. The only rule was to be creative and try to engage friends, family and the community in some way. Making a onetime donation to an organization, while good, was not the point of the assignment.

So what to do with this money? Glad you asked.

I live in the Vollintine Evergreen neighborhood. One day, while heading out of midtown to my folks’ place in Germantown, I saw a homeless person asking for food or money at what seemed like every.single.median. The image of one guy is forever emblazoned in my mind. He held a handmade sign that read, “Visions of a Big Mac.” That simple piece of cardboard made a huge impact on me.

For years, Annie and I have made it a point to always have snack crackers in our cars to give to those in need. We try to tell our older daughter, Ella, that we all can be helpers, no matter how small our gifts may seem. Sometimes she’s the one who hands out the crackers. Even at three years old, I think she understands what giving is all about.

So, again, what was I going to to do for my kingdom assignment?

Then it hit me.

I’m friends with several of the lead volunteers for Room In the Inn Memphis (RITI), so I knew that they were doing some great work with Memphis’ homeless community. I called Lisa Anderson and told her about my kingdom assignment and asked how I could help. She said that Room in the Inn was in need of survival kits for their guests. Kits are plastic sandwich bags filled with some of the little necessities that make a big difference in the quality of life of those living on the street: tube socks, wash cloth, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, garbage bag and some kind of snack.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you what RITI does. In a nutshell, RITI Memphis, modeled after Room in the Inn Nashville, provides dinner and breakfast, a shower, and warm bed for guests one night a week during the coldest winter months (Nov. thru March). Currently, there are nine congregations in Memphis participating. To put it into perspective, RITI Nashville has more than 150 congregations.

Here’s my thought: with a church or faith community on every corner here in Memphis, something is wrong with this picture, don’t you think?

But I digress. Back to my project.

I set a goal to make 500 survival kits for Room in the Inn. Then, I just started talking it up with people. First up, I got my small group involved. We all agreed to go after one or two of the items on our list. Chris took tube socks, Ginger took toothbrushes. Annie and I reached out to our co-workers and families to donate what they could. Not to mention social media. What I’ve realized in all of this is that people want to help. They just need a simple way to do so. We set up an Amazon Wish List for RITI that featured our needed items and included my address.

putting kits togetherEvery day for three weeks I came home from work to find boxes filled all the things we asked for. We also had our kids reaching out to their friends and school mates. Walt, who was also chosen for a kingdom project put his money and efforts towards RITI. He and Meredith were in charge of wash clothes. My dad gave me a $20 spot and other friends chipped in cash as well. It was an overwhelming outpouring of support.

While the goal was to create survival kits, we also wanted to get the word out about this wonderful ministry. And we did! We’ve also decided to make this an annual fundraiser.

My house was filling up with stuff and everyone kept giving.

stuff for the kits

Our deadline to turn in items was December 5 and our packing party to put together kits was December 10, but with my wife’s due date being December 10, we made the item deadline and packing party the same day, December 5.

December 5th, rainy December 5th.

We all met at Josh and Ginger’s house and created the most amazing assembly line ever. We told the kids it was like trick-or-treating too which made it even more fun. Altogether, we made up more than 350 kits, but we also donated a ton more, including first aid kits, blankets, plates, clothes, and shampoo.

Ella helps assemble survival kits

Ella helps assemble survival kits

Late that night, Ella, Chris and I delivered the goods to Lisa at RITI’s new space downtown. Lisa and her husband, Barry, were floored by the generosity of people who participated in this project.

The next day, December 6, my wife gave birth to baby Bea. Really glad we moved that deadline up!

But y’know what else? I’m glad we put that crisp $100 bill to work building better lives for our neighbors. Coffee can wait another day. That $100 did something amazing. It turned into more than $500 and inspired our family and friends to make a difference. How do you put a value on that?

Thanks to all who contributed. I definitely didn’t do it alone.

For more information about Room in the Inn Memphis, visit http://www.roomintheinn-memphis.org/. They do great work and make it easy to get involved!


Do you want to get involved? Here are two easy ways to help:

Check Volunteer Odyssey’s Calendar for upcoming opportunities to volunteer with Room in the Inn.

Purchase something from RITI’s Wish List and ship it to them directly!

How to help at Thanksgiving

How to volunteer in Memphis

Thanksgiving is one of the most popular days of the year to volunteer and many volunteer opportunities for Thanksgiving Day fill up far in advance. So what’s a well-meaning Memphian to do? You can still make a difference!

How to volunteer in MemphisOur local outreach agencies need survival kits (also known as gift bags or blessing bags) for the people they serve throughout the year.

You can collect the materials at assemble these bags at your home while watching videos about those who have been homeless in Memphis.

So what should these bags include? Things like snacks, socks and gloves, toothbrushes and other necessities. Want more ideas?

Get instructions and access to these powerful stories on our founder’s blog.

Memphis needs your help at Thanksgiving and 364 other days of the year. Pick a day that’s special to you and make that a traditional for volunteering. Maybe it’s your birthday, a memorial, or your anniversary! Check out Volunteer Odyssey’s Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities for ideas throughout the rest of the year!

Get started with your Thanksgiving Day Project!


Do you want to help make the world more awesome? So do WE!

At Volunteer Odyssey we believe that everyone can use their special talents to become a volunteer superhero. Whatever your skills or interests, we can help you find a place to make a difference.

Want to get started? Here you go!
1) Explore our programs
2) Check our calendar of volunteer opportunities
3) We want to hear from you! Email sarah@volunteerodyssey.com

Like our work? Keep it going!

Support Volunteer Opportunities in Memphis. Donate to Volunteer Odyssey

 

 

How to improve Volunteer Odyssey? Kid President!!!

In case you’re wondering, Kid President doesn’t wear a suit on the moon bounce.

When our blogger Crista Dupree starting her Volunteer Odyssey experience, she met one of our favorite people – Kid President!

Crista just started her 7-day adventure with us and was volunteering at the Memphis Grizzlies Moon Bounce as part of Rock for Love at the Church Health Center. So many of our favorite things in one place.

While volunteering, Crista was lucky enough to be photobombed by Kid President! That’s the best kind of photobomb we can think of!

Because as Kid President would say, Make the World More Awesome! And then hop on the moon bounce!

KidPresident

 

Do you want to help make the world more awesome? So do WE!

At Volunteer Odyssey we believe that everyone can use their special talents to become a volunteer superhero. Whatever your skills or interests, we can help you find a place to make a difference.

Want to get started? Here you go!
1) Explore our programs
2) Check our calendar of volunteer opportunities
3) We want to hear from you! Email sarah@volunteerodyssey.com

Like our work? Keep it going!

Support Volunteer Opportunities in Memphis. Donate to Volunteer Odyssey

Volunteer Odyssey Launches Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities in Memphis

Our team at Volunteer Odyssey is excited to announce the launch of our Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities in Memphis.

Our goal is to turn potential volunteers into dedicated volunteers and to share their stories! Most people want to volunteer and contribute to Memphis, but many don’t know where to start. Our calendar is the perfect starting point.

We have something for everyone and every schedule. There are daytime volunteer opportunities plus evening and weekend opportunities. There are experiences for kids, adults, groups, and individuals. We opportunities to help the homeless, to work in gardens, and to use your unique skills to benefit non-profits all across Memphis.

Volunteer Opportunities in Memphis. Left to right: Lauren Squires at Project Outreach, Ariana Glantz at the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County, Brendan Larkin at Gaia Community Garden

Volunteer Opportunities in Memphis. Left to right: Lauren Squires at Project Outreach, Ariana Glantz at the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County, Brendan Larkin at Gaia Community Garden

If you’re ready to get started, visit our Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities in Memphis.

Calendar of volunteer opportunities memphis

If you need more information or have a specific request, let us know!

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Support Volunteer Opportunities in Memphis. Donate to Volunteer Odyssey

Donating Isn’t Rocket Science

Note from Volunteer Odyssey:

We’ll be incorporating guest posts about Memphis area nonprofits that are doing great work in the community.

We present Part 2 of a series about food banks from local journalist, Rachel Wilhite:


8224283841_1efe1bacd3Bob Fritchey is a busy man.  His phone is ringing off the hook, having received at least five calls in the last fifteen minutes.  He’s working on a deal to buy 1,500 turkeys for a dollar per pound and he wants them in the warehouse, ready to ship today.  As the Food Resource Coordinator, Fritchey will be the first to tell you that the Mid-South Food Bank in Memphis, Tennessee, doesn’t like to go around with its hat in hand; it prefers to build relationships with donors.

But Fritchey hasn’t always been so busy.  Before the passage of the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, companies were afraid to donate to food banks because of liability concerns.  Almost a decade ago, a Wal-Mart in Dyersburg, Tennessee had a situation in which their refrigeration system lost power briefly overnight.  Consequently, all of the frozen and refrigerated food was pulled from store regardless if it had thawed or not.  It was then shrink-wrapped and placed into a nondescript box to be shipped to an out-of-state landfill because store managers were worried that news of the incident would get out. They thought that if they shipped the food to a local landfill, someone would go through it and get sick in the process.  This was a normal response to manage a store’s inventory quality back then.  The majority of this food was unharmed and could have been donated to a food bank in need; instead, it was thrown out.

8225340042_2a4cf7f0ccFortunately, this is no longer the case.  “The truth is,” Fritchey stated, “as long as a company is willing to donate food products to a legitimate non-profit and they’re doing it with the intent that the product is still good along with the desire to feed people, there is almost zero liability associated with it thanks to the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.”  The act encourages food donations by shielding both donor and recipient agencies from liability issues except in extreme cases.  Since its passage, the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act has opened the Mid-South Food Bank’s doors to a lot of major companies such as Sara Lee, Hillshire Farms, Family Dollar, Riviana Foods, Kroger and Wal-Mart.

Even still, the food bank and its associate pantries are often at the mercy of unpredictable donations and overstocked inventory.  Occasionally Fritchey gets a call to pick up pallets of food from a truck driver stuck at a weigh station who is overweight and in a hurry to get back on the road. “I don’t deal with donations received by the bag.  I go after the truckloads,” Fritchey said. Many truck stop managers have established relationships with their local pantry operators, directing their drivers to deliver their rejected merchandise to their doorsteps, no matter what time of night it is.

8224268657_d43c076fd6Businesses competing with one another in order to have a strong public perception of quality will begin pulling produce from their shelves long before its expiration date because it is no longer aesthetically pleasing to the customer.  “We get a lot of stuff from the distribution center in New Albany, Mississippi.  Gary [Hall] will call me with stuff they need to get rid of,” Fritchey said.  “It could be anything.”

Gary Hall has worked at multiple Wal-Mart Distribution Centers for 26 years, 13 of which have been spent in the New Albany facility.  As a Quality Assurance Manager, it is his job to ensure that all products are up to standard regardless of their final destination.  The New Albany outfit stocks 126 dry goods stores as well as 103 perishable goods stores.  It is also currently home to about 200,000 turkeys waiting to be sold throughout the holiday season.  Hall has donated ten turkeys to the Mid-South Food Bank so far, but with this kind of stock, more are bound to follow.

Hall began donating to the food bank five years ago, due in part to its commitment to serving the region to which his store belongs.  New Albany’s local food pantry, the Good Samaritan Center, is supported by the Mid-South Food Bank and also accepts aid from the community—including outsiders who are just passing through.  Many donations are obtained from truck drivers whose loads are rejected.  Recently, the Good Samaritan Center received several cases of onions that had fallen off a pallet.  The onions were not accepted by the grocer for fear that they would be bruised and unsellable.  Left with merchandise to unload, the driver contacted the pantry, where he knew the produce would be accepted without question.  Donations like this are described as “happy accidents,” and thanks to the federal Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, along with the relationships made throughout the supply chain, this food is no longer going to waste.

Hall says his drivers contribute differently.  “Our donations our generally consumer-controlled, not accidental.  All our buyers have to go off of is how much we sold last year.  If there winds up being overstock, it gets donated.”  Items that are store brand, such as Great Value or Sam’s Choice, are a separate story.  Wal-Mart does not allow these items to be donated.  Hall says that the company’s reasoning is that the donation of these goods could have direct, undue influence over individuals.  “We don’t want that kind of exposure,” he said.  “A can of Del Monte tomatoes could have come from anywhere.  A can of Great Value tomatoes can obviously be linked back to us.”

Regardless of how goods find their way to the Mid-South Food Bank, we can be assured that they are benefiting someone in need.  The Mid-South Food Bank distributes about a million pounds of food per month to their associate pantries in eighteen counties in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.  The local food industry—from warehousing to retail—proves to be a valuable resource for the bank, providing exactly 31 percent of the bank’s annual inventory.  This is one of the crucial sources of donations that Fritchey attempts to secure access to.  “Every year there is over 100 billion pounds of food wasted in this country.  That’s enough to feed every single man, woman and child an extra 1,500 pounds (of food) a year and it’s just wasted.  It’s wasted for cosmetic reasons, people cooking too much…from the field to the table, there are all these places where food is wasted.  If we can recoup some of that and give it to those in need, it’s the right thing to do.  It’s not rocket science; it’s what we should be doing.”  By working to build relationships with food distribution centers, retailers and others in the food transportation industry, Fritchey is helping ensure that’s exactly what happens.

See more of Rachel’s pictures from the Mid-South Food Bank:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rlwilhite/sets/72157632115374385/

By Rachel Wilhite

Twitter: @rachwilhite

More than Hunger

Note from Volunteer Odyssey:

We’ll be incorporating guest posts about Memphis area nonprofits that are doing great work in the community.

We present Part 1 of a series about food banks from local journalist, Rachel Wilhite:


The Good Samaritan Center in New Albany, Mississippi, is doing more than just providing relief to hungry families.  It’s bringing the community together.  No matter your age or ability, there is something you can do to help.  “It is about so much more than the food,” pantry director Sally Zemek stated.  “We are building relationships.”

The phrase “many hands make light work” seems to be an apt motto for the pantry, with volunteers of all ages filing in and out their doors each day they are open.  They distribute roughly 13,000 pounds of food each month.  That’s around 1,625 gallons of milk or 13,000 cans of soup.  The Mid-South Food Bank provides exactly 4,000 pounds of this food.  The remaining 9,000 pounds is obtained through the Mississippi Food Network and local donations.

Zemek plans a three-day menu with the items she receives and includes recipes.  The pantry operates as an emergency resource for meal assistance, providing its clients with three days’ worth of food depending on the size of the family.  The clients are prescreened to ensure eligibility and are only able to receive aid once a month.   “Only a small percent come every month,” said Zemek.  “I don’t feel like a lot of people lean on this.  It’s not glamorous.  They’re receiving canned goods, not steak and lobster.”

Zemek’s work is hard but is made easier by the wide array of volunteers who join her at the pantry regularly.  Many clients find Wanda Roberts, the pantry’s office manager, to be very relatable.  When Roberts suddenly lost her husband and job three years ago, she also turned to the Good Samaritan Center for help.  Roberts isn’t shy about sharing her story with others.  “The pantry gave me hope,” she said.  “I got a hug the first time I came.  They made me feel good that day and they didn’t have to.  I want to give that encouragement to someone else now.”

Roberts isn’t the only one who returns to the pantry after having been a client.  “At least once or twice a year,” Roberts said, “someone comes back and gives something.  It may not be more than twenty dollars or thirty minutes but you remember their face.  It touches you.”

Heather Ferrell, a teacher at New Albany High School, has been bringing her Occupational Diploma program students to volunteer multiple times a week for almost a year.  The Mississippi Occupational Diploma (MOD) is a graduation option that is available to special education students with mild to moderate learning disabilities.  Her students are able to use this experience to meet graduation requirements outlined by the program.

When Ferrell first told her class they would be partnering with the pantry, they were excited to help the older volunteers.  Trent Jones, a student in Ferrell’s class, said, “We can do things a lot easier than they can.”  Before the arrival of the MOD students, Wanda Roberts, described herself as “one of the younger volunteers” at 61.  “We probably get more out of it than they do,” said Roberts.

Ferrell’s students beg to differ.  The class collectively agrees that they like giving back to the community.  “It’s a perfect situation in which both parties benefit,” Ferrell said.  “My students are meeting their graduation requirements while doing good for others.”  From clerical work to cleaning, the students do a little bit of everything while at the pantry.  “They learn many valuable skills that will help them find employment later,” said Ferrell.  “They keep the books, take inventory, unload shipments and stock the shelves.  But most importantly, they learn how to work cooperatively with other people,” she added.

Matthew Stacy, a Mississippi Occupational Diploma graduate and a former student of Ferrell, says his favorite task is retrieving the cake mix and icing for clients who have upcoming birthdays.  Stacy and his grandmother, Kay Browning, have been volunteering at the pantry twice a week for two months now.  They’ve become the permanent “welcome wagon,” greeting clients as they enter the building and loading their groceries into their cars as they leave.

Ferrell’s students’ involvement with the Good Samaritan Center doesn’t stop at volunteering.  They also connect the high school community at large with the pantry by organizing school-wide food drives.  They request that students in each grade collect specific items that the pantry is always in need of, including peanut butter, jelly, grains, cooking oil, tea and coffee.  “We are grateful these students have decided to do this for us,” Roberts said.  “Sometimes our inventory is so limited.  There will only be three or four items to give out.  This class has been a tremendous help in so many ways.”

Volunteers are crucial to the daily operation of the Good Samaritan Center.  With only three part time employees, volunteers are what keep the pantry’s doors open.  Zemek said “some volunteers come weekly, others once a month.  They get as much out of it as the people receiving the food.”  The pantry’s purpose is to support families in need, but it runs on the support of the family it brought together.

By Rachel Wilhite

Twitter: @rachwilhite

Prelude: Samantha Hicks

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For the last few years my life has been packed full of potty training, princesses, and playing pretend. I am lucky enough to have had the amazing opportunity of being a stay at home mom for the past three years. It has been an incredible experience, and I have relished in every moment of it. Aside from being a full time mother, staying at home with my daughter has also enabled me to complete a Master’s Degree in Social Work through The University of Tennessee’s distance learning program.

Nearing the end of my last semester of graduate school I decided that it was time to trade my mom jeans for dress slacks and begin my search for what they call a “real job”. After all, I couldn’t possibly believe that spending the next fifteen years at home playing dress up and having tea parties was actually an option. Could I? Either way, today I am nearing the two month mark and have applied for seventy-five, plus, jobs. I am quite new to the Memphis area and have decided that networking in the private/ non-profit sector may be beneficial in my search. What better way to accomplish this than by volunteering? It is a win-win for everyone involved, and furthermore I will have the opportunity to meet lots of new and exciting people to whom I can lend a couple of helping hands along the way. So, wish me luck! I am jumping into this experience head first, on a mission to help change lives and hopefully have mine changed along the way as well