Day 6: All Good Gifts

Finally ready to checkout!
A different kind of shopping experience

A different kind of shopping experience

On Saturday, I found myself at Catholic Charities of West Tennessee (CCWTN) preparing to go shopping for a family of nine. I had initially assumed this meant I would be jumping in my car and heading to the nearest Target. As it turned out, I only had to walk across the parking lot and into a gymnasium filled with toys, clothes, and food. All of these donated items had been sorted into boxes by size, gender, age, and purpose, and an army of volunteers was about to make sure they all ended up in the hands of people who needed them.

The premise of the Gifts for God’s Children program seemed simple enough. Each volunteer picked up a bag and an application submitted to Fig Tree Emergency Services by a family in need, then proceeded to “shop” through the gym for the items requested. In reality, this annual endeavor takes a tremendous amount of volunteer support to collect, sort, organize, and distribute all the food and gifts. I asked Lucie Johnson, Coordinator of Supportive Services at CCWTN, if this seemingly novel approach to helping at-risk families at Christmas was a recent development. She told me that they had been using this method for years. As I made my way around the gym, I could see how much planning had gone into making this complex undertaking seem simple to the people who showed up to help out.

Finally ready to checkout!

Finally ready to checkout!

In theory, each volunteer would fill a bag for a family, check out with a volunteer at the front of the gym, and then start over with a new application. In reality, I never made it to round two. The first application I picked up was for a family with eight children, six of whom were under 10 years old. By the time I had picked through the dozens of boxes of toys and clothing to find the perfect match for each child on my list, the rest of the applications had already been picked up by other volunteers. Hundreds of bags were packed and ready for delivery in less than two hours.

The eyes of the volunteer who checked me out grew wide as I heaved my bag of gifts onto the table. “Woah!” she said. “I think we’re going to need a bigger bag,” I replied. We transferred the toy cars and teddy bears and dolls to a new bag, which would be delivered along with a box of food to the parent who filled out the application. As I left the gymnasium, I thought about the sheer number of people and hours required to successfully pull off an undertaking like Gifts for God’s Children. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this experience was how seamless it felt to me. I was thankful that Fig Tree and CCWTN were meeting a need in the community, and I was especially grateful that they had made it so easy to get involved.

To learn about volunteer opportunities with CCWTN, visit www.ccwtn.org/volunteer.

Everything in its right place

Everything in its right place

Food and gifts ready for distribution

Food and gifts ready for distribution

I Came Out Smelling Like a Rose

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Today’s journey took me to the  Catholic Charities of West Tennessee.  I worked with their Bouquets of Hope program, which takes donated flowers from weddings and special events, and rearranges them into smaller bouquets to deliver to people in hospitals, hospice, nursing homes, and seniors living in assisted living or retirement communities.  I arrived at 8:30am and was introduced to Lucie, the Coordinator of Supportive Services.  We chatted for a few minutes, and the one thing she said that struck me the most was how much she loved her job.  She said that had she known the job would be this rewarding, she would have gone after it so much sooner.

After a tour of the facilities, and an explanation of all the good deeds the organization does for those in need in the community, Lucie took me downstairs to the Bouquets of Hope production room where I met Maria and Michael. I saw buckets and buckets of flowers, and smelled the strong scent of roses.

Original bouquets, prior to disassembly

Original bouquets, prior to disassembly

Without saying a word, Maria handed me an apron, and I knew it was time to get to work!  She showed me how to disassemble the larger bouquets and put them in buckets of water.  By the time we finished the disassembly, other volunteers arrived. What had been a very quiet room turned into a bustling area of the friendly chatter of regulars who meet there every Monday.  I have no experience with flower arranging, but after watching all of the regulars, I think I got the hang of it.  We ended up with 80+ small bouquets to deliver.

After a quick lunch break, I had the opportunity to speak with Christine, the Manager of Social Enterprises and Community Engagement.  I asked her, “So what made you get into the nonprofit arena?”  She explained that she was going to law school and wanted to be a public defender.  After some volunteer experiences and a job opportunity at Catholic Charities, Christine realized this was where she was meant to be.  She also explained how several people at Catholic Charities came from corporate backgrounds much like myself, and chose to change their career direction toward the nonprofit world.  That was encouraging to hear.

Finished products - ready to load into the van

Finished products – ready to load into the van

By the time Christine and I finished our conversation, Lucie brought the van around. We loaded up all of the arrangements for our road trip to St. Mark’s Village in Moscow, TN – about 45 miles east of Memphis.  We met up with the van carrying boxes of food to share with the residents along with our bouquets.  We quickly devised a game plan for the four-plex buildings, and immediately went into delivery mode.

What struck me the most with meeting each of the residents was how happy they were to see us – even though they had never met us.  I remember one resident in particular – Barbara – was so excited to see us!  She immediately opened her door to let us in.  I told her I would put the vase of flowers on her dining table, and she said, “Don’t mind the mess on that table, I’ve been paying my monthly bills.”  So I said, “Well that’s always fun!”  She replied, “Ain’t it though?”  Then we both laughed.   She asked, “You got time to sit down for a bit?”  How could I not?  So I sat down on the ottoman next to her chair and stayed to visit.

Me hanging out for a bit with my new friend Barbara.

Me hanging out for a bit with my new friend Barbara.

Towards the end of our delivery, I met another sweet soul – Aida!  She was so proud of the flowers we left her, so she went around to her neighbors to make sure they all were getting them as well.  We were at our last apartment, and couldn’t get an answer at the door, so Aida comes up and starts banging on the door, yelling the resident’s name, and sure enough, the door opens.

As we were leaving, Aida said, “This is a blessing!  Y’all keep doing wonderful things!”   That one statement made my day!  It is a blessing to be able to do nice things for others with no expectation of a good deed being reciprocated.  Too often we forget this in today’s world.  I would say that what I learned the most from today’s experience is this – there is reward in doing for others – no matter how small the act.

We got back in the van for the 45-minute drive back to Memphis. Lucie gave me a warm hug as I was leaving.  I drove off with a smile, because I just had a great day, and I could still smell the strong scent of roses.

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Day 5: More Empowering Connections

It was my goal to aid in Catholic Charities' empowering cause for meeting the needs of many people in the Memphis community.
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I made box labels after sorting clothes. My heart feels good about what I did here today.

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Memphis and the surrounding community answers the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee’s call to action by donating clothes for Operation Bare Necessities.

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It was my goal to aid in Catholic Charities’ empowering cause for meeting the needs of many people in the Memphis community.

During my Volunteer Odyssey I’ve discovered more about buildings that I’ve passed a million times; however, I didn’t realize that the building that housed an empowering community  resource. I was introduced to Catholic Charities of West Tennessee on Jefferson Avenue.  Christine Hash, Manager of Supportive Services, gave me a tour of the organization’s facilities, which formerly a school. Catholic Charities has started receiving donations to fill Christmas wish lists. The room that was once a gymnasium, now looked like a toy store and it’s only September!  Looking at the toys that had were in the process of being arranged by category, big girls and boys as well as little kids. I could only smile at Memphis, after being told that the toys had been donated by local charities, schools and businesses.

Today, I sorted clothes to benefit the Mobile Clothing Outreach program, which just started this past August. They have started incorporating the clothing outreach into their mobile food outreach. With this program, Catholic Charities was able to provide clothing for an additional 290 people. They have delivered to Birthright, Neighborhood Christian Center, St. Mary’s and other locations. My heart smiled again knowing that the clothing I boxed up will be taking a future mobile clothing outreach.

I also learned that they just launched their new program Bouquets of Hope. With this project they will receive donations of flowers previously used at events such as weddings. These flowers will be converted into fresh arrangements to be sent to every hospital, hospice or nursing home patient, to brighten their days. Being a creative visual artist myself, I took interest in volunteering to help with flower arrangements.

My service today was a benefit for Catholic Charities of West Tennessee and they were the same to me in return. I met some awesome people like Volunteer Coordinator, Peggy Stehling. I told them about my career interests and experience; in turn, they asked for my resume with intentions to check on possible positions with them. They also said that they will be forwarding my resume to other opportunities that should correlate with what I do in public relations and communications.

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? With more than 10 years experience, Cristalynne Dupree is searching for a job where she will use her marketing, public relations and communications skill to coordinate strategies and tactics that will reach and engage the organization’s target audience.  Contact her at 1225Cristalynne@gmail.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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Charity for All

Day 5 of my Volunteer Odyssey was spent with Catholic Charities of West Tennessee (CCWTN). They are one of the largest nonprofit, multi-social service providers in the Mid-south. They have five main ways of community outreach; Food pantry, immigration services, homeless shelter, counseling, emergency services programs, and a new Veterans program. I had the pleasure of meeting Al, who’s a volunteer for CCWTN. He was very energetic and excited to tell me all about CCWTN. First we introduced ourselves, and then he gave me a tour of their office. He was very enthusiastic about the organization and explained how you never know what’s in store for your future or how your skills will be used. Al is a veteran and he never expected he would be a volunteer and with an organization such as CCWTN.

I helped Al load the CCWTN van with food we were to distribute to families. Be on the lookout for their van – it’s really cool, great pictures, and partly written in Spanish. On this day, we were to provide food for 21 families from a Jubilee school. Several other volunteers met us on site. The families we served seemed very happy and grateful for receiving the food. The majority of the families were Latino, so I was able to use a bit of my Spanish. The children were excited to receive candy, and the mothers (who made up the majority of individuals picking up the food) gave many thanks for CCWTN’s help.

We're preparing grocery bags for families in need We’re preparing grocery bags for families in need

I really enjoyed my volunteer experience with CCWTN.

Teamwork! Teamwork!

Their programs are tailored to reach a broad range of individuals and the volunteers, who make up the majority of the “staff” since CCWTN has only three paid staff members, are giving people with really big hearts. My hope is that CCWTN continues to grow and reach many more people that may have been forgotten or difficult to reach.

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Week 19, Day 1: FIG-uring It All Out

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As a recent Memphis transplant and life-long volunteer, I figured I’d better start getting acquainted with my new city. I signed up for a Volunteer Odyssey week in hopes of meeting new people, discovering different volunteer opportunities, and, with any luck, learning a few city streets. My ability to navigate ranks right up there with my ability to sail the high seas in that it’s nonexistent. I had hoped that moving to Memphis would force me to turn into a human GPS, but, so far, no dice.

Somehow I pulled out a miracle, took the correct turns, and, at promptly 7:15 am, found myself in the Catholic Charities parking lot being greeted by two volunteers, a 16-passenger van and the ever-present Memphis sun. It turns out that, much like the Memphis heat, Fig Tree Food Pantry volunteers like to get an early start. The food pantry employs just one staff member and relies heavily on a team of well-oiled volunteers who pick up, sort, and distribute much of the pantry’s food.

20140604_Volunteer_Odyssey_Day1_04Al, awake and ready to go!

Joining me at the food pantry was the fabulous Mira Biller, Volunteer Odyssey’s new summer intern. Since Mira and I are both new to Memphis, we befriended one another and quickly bonded over our mutual love of flip phones, volunteerism, and cheap Vietnamese food.

Our first stop was the Mid-South Food Bank to pick up this week’s order. Long-time Fig Tree volunteers Ronny and Al are food bank pros and know exactly what items they have to look for. As they wandered up and down the aisles collecting a few boxes of granola bars here and a couple of cans of beans there, Mira and I followed and created the “What’s-The-Weirdest-Food-Here?” game. I have my money on the container of powdered goat’s milk.

20140604_Volunteer_Odyssey_Day1_03One can of powdered goat’s milk, please!

The Food Bank runs a tight schedule, so soon enough we were whisked back to the pantry to unload the van. Alas, possessing fabulous arm strength is not a skill set of mine.

20140604_Volunteer_Odyssey_Day1_01Minutes later, it was determined that I have no arm strength.

Making up food bags is, however, and so away I went with Ms Gloria to prepare Walking Homeless Bags (small food bags, 18 are handed out daily). Ms Gloria is the food pantry’s sole employee and flat out fabulous. She patiently answered our questions, introduced us to other food pantry volunteers, and shared a little bit about her incredible life story.

If I had to sum up Ms Gloria (and all Fig Tree volunteers for that matter) in a single word and I think that word would be positive! The Catholic Charities staff and its volunteer team are warm, welcoming, and gracious.  The longer Mira and I bagged food, the more apparent it became that Fig Tree volunteers are more than just a team –they’re family. The level of respect they have for each other is immensely apparent as they lend a hand to one another, tell jokes, and celebrate accomplishments and special moments, like birthdays.

20140604_Volunteer_Odyssey_Day1_02Mira, Ms Gloria, and Kat

Not only was today the start of my Volunteer Odyssey week, it happened to be Gloria’s birthday, therefore Mira and I found ourselves initiated into the Fig Tree family with slices of cake and a moving birthday poem written and read by fellow volunteer Melinda, who writes poems for each lucky birthday boy or girl. And before we left, volunteer and self-proclaimed foodie Felix wrote out a two-page list of Memphis restaurant suggestions for us.

While I did not achieve the rank of Master Food Bag Maker, I left the Fig Tree Food Pantry feeling inspired by its incredible team and by this authentic and humbling volunteer experience. Onward!

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Kat Franchino is a freelance writer and an avid blogger. She will happily take on any writing challenges. Contact her at katfranchino@yahoo.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

 

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The Stairmaster

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On my last day on the Safari Odyssey with Ari I was also introduced to a new form of CrossFit – The Turkey Stairmaster. Don’t worry, I’ll explain later but I think I’ve found the secret to staying svelte during the Holiday Season!

Charities at a glance

Charities at a glance

Today’s venture brought me to the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee and more specifically, the Fig Tree Pantry. On an average day the Fig Tree Pantry helps many homeless and impoverished with food services. Today was not an average day –  it was Day 3 of the Christmas Basket hand out. A program that started about 20 years ago to help provide provisions and toys to refugee families. Since then, the program has grown into serving over 300 homeless and immigrant families. Since I was a part of Day 3, previous volunteers had already sorted the food into boxes and Day 2 had given away about half of the them.

As I drove up behind the Dozier House I pulled up next to a huge refrigerated van and found a few people lugging frozen turkeys. Aha, I think I have found my fellow wranglers. truck turkeys

After taking the turkeys out, we placed them in bags with a pack of hotdogs. Each basket would have an assortment of dry goods, paper goods, a turkey weighing between 18-22 pounds and a pack of hotdogs. Thank goodness we had the muscle crew because we had a lot of loading to do! After being warmly greeted by Neal and Al I was sent to help finalize the organizing and receive a brief breakdown on how the whole procedure works.

Like any good assembly line, all the parts need to be moving together and in the correct order. When a client checks in they are given a number. There number is then called up to the toy room and some one brings down there bag of toys.* The client may then get some coffee, water and a cookie and if they have a child with them, get a picture taken with Santa. The picture also gets printed out right there and then thanks to the lovely Alie! Finishing the assembly line, the wrangling crew brings a box and turkey to the client’s car that gets pulled up, almost drive through style. My role was to bring the boxes and turkeys up the stairs and prep them for the people putting them in the cars. Pshhh, easy peasy. Then I got to carrying turkey and box number 30 and realized my idiocy.

My domain

My domain

 

These are the stairs that I got VERY well acquainted with. I am not even going to pretend like I didn’t work up a sweat. The rest of the assembly line was working so well I was barely able to keep them stocked and ready to go! It was awesome though – it allowed me to fully indulge and enjoy the pizza that they so graciously provided for lunch for the volunteers.

 

 

 

Someone is going to be a happy camper this Christmas!

Someone is going to be a happy camper this Christmas!

*Back to the toys. So, even separate from all the food organization, each client has extensive paperwork giving background to the family so we can make sure things are appropriately tailored. If the family is not living somewhere with access to cook the turkey, alternative options are provided. This really blew me away. I mean, yes, it seems extremely logical, but it also takes a lot of additional prep work but it ensures that everyone who is receiving is receiving items and goods they can use. That is some beautiful foresight. The paperwork also details what kind of kids they family has so the toys can be tailored as well. Going up the toy room was beautiful! There were tons of donations from the community of really really great items.

Although my interaction with clients was limited, I could hear many “Merry Christmases,” “God Bless Yous” and other thank yous floating down to me and my stairs. Albeit it being about 65 degrees, the season of giving is definitely in full effect.

And I even got to have my first ever picture with Santa!

me and santa!Stay tuned for my final thoughts about Volunteer Odyssey and a wrap-up of this week!

Love,

Ari

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.
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Bagging Groceries

Sorting chicken fingers
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Sorting chicken fingers

My mom used to pass out sandwiches from the back out our minivan in the parking lot of the grocery store. I’ve donated canned goods to food drives before. I know that, according to polls, the Mid-south area is the hungriest in the nation. That 25% of the children in Shelby County go to bed hungry every night. That 91% of impoverished neighborhoods in Memphis do not have access to a full service grocery store.

I know all of that.

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But shelves upon shelves of canned goods look different when you know that there are real families who depend on them. Suddenly, hunger is right there, laid out in rows of cans and boxes. Catholic Charities Fig Tree Food Pantry serves 20 families per day from their location at Jefferson and Cleveland, and as many as 40 once a week when their Mobile Unit delivers to various Mid-south neighborhoods. As I packed bags with peanut butter, spaghetti, and canned vegetables, I couldn’t help but think of the people who might be on the receiving end. Did they have kids who would be excited about the Pop Tarts that were new this week? Would Mom do something special to the macaroni and cheese? My Mom added hot dogs to mine.

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Helping Ms. Mary pack bags

Melinda has been packing bags for more than two years, beginning when the Food Pantry was just a small room in the basement of the Catholic Charities building. The volunteers are the heart and soul of this place, and it would not run without them. Al, Pat, Mary, and Neal joined Melinda is showing me the ropes and making me feel welcome. The story of how they each found their way to the Food Pantry is different, but the reason they help is the same – they want to make a difference.

Completed bags are ready for families.

Completed bags are ready for families

The whole operation is run by volunteers and one part time staffer, and their hard work and dedication has enabled significant growth in a short time. They now place a weekly order with the Mid South Food Bank, which provides the majority of food for pantries in the Memphis area and beyond, and supplement with direct donations.  It’s a small dent in the huge problem of hunger in the area, but for the families that are served it makes all the difference in the world. As I helped sort boxes of vegetables onto shelves, or tiny hotel shampoos into boxes, I considered all of the things I throw away without thought. That though I consider myself a compassionate person, the reminder of how fortunate I am makes me more so. I should remember not only the families who need my compassion, but the volunteers who will be here tomorrow – because they could use the help.

And more tiny hotel shampoos!

And more tiny hotel shampoos!

Thank you for reading! I am looking for a position with a non-profit that will allow me to use my communication, fundraising, and special event planning skills to impact development at an organization making a positive difference in Memphis. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.
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The Best Kept Secret in Memphis

Behind the scenes packaging food parcels at the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee Fig Tree Food Pantry

“You never know, you may be the one bright thing that they see today. So be friendly!”

That advice came from Melinda, a volunteer I met at the Fig Tree Food Pantry. We were stationed in the front of the building, receiving clients and processing referrals from MIFA, Friends for Life, and the Med. It was emotional for me to be able to physically hand over food to each client. I took Melinda’s advice to heart and saw the difference that a smile accompanying the food gifts can make!

Standing up front preparing to hand out food parcels at the Fig Tree Food Pantry (with a smile!)

Standing up front preparing to hand out food parcels at the Fig Tree Food Pantry (with a smile!)

Melinda’s advice trickled through a day of many firsts for me: my first day of my Volunteer Odyssey, my first blog post of my volunteer week, and hopefully the first of many days helping at this food pantry. I had never visited a food pantry before, let alone offered to volunteer at one. I felt welcome and at ease from the moment I stepped out of my car until the time I left the Food Pantry (a half hour after I originally intended!).

I learned about the food pantry from the dedicated volunteers that showed me the ropes. The Fig Tree Food Panty is only one of the services offered by the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee. They also operate a clothing closet and a veterans’ initiative called St. Sebastian’s. The Food Pantry purchases food items such as canned fruits and veggies, bags of rice and beans, boxes of cereal, various meat, and even cake and cookie mixes from the Mid-South Food Bank, and then these items are put into bags organized by family size. Most boxes were designed for families of four or five.

After my initial stint at the front with Melinda, I moved to the back where I met Gloria and Mary, two other volunteers. From them I learned what goes in each food parcel, and the correct pronunciation of Quinoa. With all of the cans and boxes I hauled, I definitely gained some muscle today!

Packing up a box a the Fig Tree Food Pantry with the help of Ms. Gloria and Ms. Mary - so much fun!

Packing up a box at the Fig Tree Food Pantry with the help of Ms. Gloria and Ms. Mary – so much fun!

A committed circle of volunteers runs the Food Pantry; and it is astounding what this small group of people makes happen. The partnership the Food Bank and the Food Pantry have is a prime example of the type of community partnerships that I am interested in building and facilitating, and I am inspired by the effectiveness and cooperation of all these disparate organizations that work to successfully aid the hungry citizens of Memphis. Ms. Gloria called the Food Pantry one of the best-kept secrets in Memphis.

She may be right, but I hope the secret gets out soon.

 

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization in Memphis. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or dsvgdik@gmail.com.
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Once More Into The Breach

Poverty or destitution by definition refers to the deprivation of basic human needs, such as water, food, sanitation, clothing, shelter, health care, and education. In my opinion, poverty is man’s greatest enemy because it’s seems to be inversely proportional with our achievements. Astounding breakthroughs in technology that increase our efficiency inadvertently make essential people dispensable, creating a cycle of hardship related to our progress that seems indefinite. Sometimes it’s just the way the dice roles, most people are one tragedy from being completely drained financially, whether is your car breaks down or someone becomes extremely ill. Today when I worked at the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee Food Pantry, I met some of these people.

I drove to the corner of Cleveland and Jefferson in Midtown and found my way to The Dozier House where the pantry is located on the Sacred Heart Campus at about nine in the morning. I get out of my car and I walk through the parking lot beside the old church administration buildings. They immediately remind me of my old school because of the old brick and odd additions to the buildings that obviously were not part of the original structure. It’s chilly as I look at the surroundings of the pantry.  I notice a shady shopping mall across the street and several houses in every direction that seem vandalized and abandoned. There’s a random assortment of people on the street, some I assumed from their attire were on their way to work while others seemed just to be drifting with a strange assortment of items (Baltimore and “The Wire” was all I was thinking). I make my way up the side walk through the black fenced gate to the brown door.

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I try the door and it’s locked but before I can try the intercom the door opens and I meet the other volunteers. I come into the entry way and again I’m reminded of my school, the old carpeted floor creeks while I step and the air smells aged but not stale. Inside I meet Felix, Gloria, Melinda, and Mary. I introduce myself and they quickly rattle of their names but before I really meet them Ms. Mary quickly hustles me down the hall way to the stock rooms to show me what I’ll be doing while I’m there. The first thing I notice about Ms. Mary is her aged New York accent, which is made exponentially better by her jests. She tells me about how the building use to be a convent but then was converted into a shelter for people with disabilities and dependencies for a short while before they lost their funding. The shelter makes since because as I walk down the hall you notice several rooms with fireplaces that now are packed with pallets of canned goods. I make it to the back kitchen where Ms. Mary shows me how they fill the specific grocery sacks for different size families and how they have lists for what goes in each sack so that way the family can meet all of its nutritional needs.  She shows me to the back where I start unpacking boxes from donors and organizing. I put my phone on Pandora and go to it for about an hour and then head back up to the front of the building to the other volunteers.

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I make my way to a little office where the volunteers are located directly by the front door where the clients come in to get the help that they need. Across from the office is a little kitchen, where they stack the grocery sacks and extra items they have for that day that they dole out until their gone. It’s here I really get to meet the other volunteers. Felix is in his late twenties; early thirties and is volunteering in his extra time after selling his business. He tells me about how he recently just got back from Florence where he was for four months learning to speak the language and visiting relatives. Ms. Gloria starts asking Felix about how to make pasta because according to her she needed to ask an Italian. Ms. Gloria and Ms. Melinda then explain to me about the protocol for working with the people who are in need and come in looking for help. Ms. Gloria then tells me that I’ll help the next clients that come in. As soon as she says the intercom rang and I let the client in. The woman comes in with a suit case which confuses me at first. Is she staying? I thought the shelter was closed? I continue to the small kitchen get her bag ready, the extras we have today are bread and frozen corn. Ms. Melinda takes the bag I readied and gives it to her. The woman opens up the suit case which I discover is empty and she places the bag in and zips it up. She has to use the suit case because she doesn’t have a car and has to walk most places when she’s not taking the bus. This had a resonating effect on me because it caught me so off guard.  I noticed this with more people that came in, I would give them there two bags and we would try and accommodate them as best as possible to make it easy to carry what they had. For instance an older gentleman came in and he didn’t have a bus pass or suit case or anything to help him carry his things so when we gave him his groceries he literally just had to walk with them to wherever he was going. I know this is a very small problem when you look at the whole picture of their troubles but still it blows my mind how much I just take for granted. The fact that when I just go grocery shopping the farthest I have to walk is to my car and then I can drive home. I don’t have to worry about long walks on troubled streets not only dealing with actually carrying my groceries but not getting robbed as well.

I see a more clients come through the door and help bag them up, I notice that most of them need little odd and end things that the panty doesn’t carry like bus passes and home supplies. MS. Melinda explains to me how because of food bank shortages that this is the first time they have had meat in a month as well as fresh vegetables. It begins to slow down now, I meet Al, who I believe was the coordinator, was on his way out to do their outreach program. Al tells me how the clients get verified through MIFA and other agencies, how their planning an outreach operation on Nov 7 where they’re going to try and feed 200 families. After that I meet Tony who used to be director of the shelter before it was shut down. He tells me and the volunteers about the new operation for helping veterans find housing and how they’ll be sending clients to the pantry. After that, Ms. Melinda takes me on a tour of the entire house and I realize how truly big the place is. She takes me upstairs and show me at least ten rooms some still with bed frames in it left from the shelter, then she takes me to the basement where there’s the remnants of a game room.

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Catholic Charities volunteers: Melinda, Mary, Felix and Gloria

It starts to dawn on me how large the shelter must have been and how many people must have been forced out when they lost their funding. It’s about 1:00, Ms. Gloria begins to shut down the pantry, and we say our goodbyes and I make my way back to my car and leave.  As I look back on my experience today to write about it, my mind ponders about the people I saw come into today. What had happened in their lives that had brought them to this situation? Was it just a bad card dealt that bought them on such hard times or just a system that is tilted in the favor of others.  It’s really hard to wrap your mind really around it because there so many facets to it. I tried to think about what would be a good reference for what I took in today.  When I really thought about it the “Once more into the breach” reference from Henry the V seemed a cool idea.  The volunteers at the Pantry like Felix, Melinda, Gloria, Al, and Mary face the insurmountable enemy that is hunger and poverty.  As sure as the sun rises and the pantry is open their will be people who need their help, and that can be discouraging in the thought of a never ending line of people in need, but what gives me hope is that I believe there will always be good people like the volunteers at the pantry ready to help those in need. So I say to the volunteers and volunteers to come at the pantry, “Once more into the Breach, Dear friends, once more.”

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Week 13, Day 4: Adriene at Catholic Charities’ Mobile Food Pantry

Volunteers with Catholic Charities Mobile Food Pantry

Today was a cool and beautiful August day, which made me even happier to join Catholic Charities of West Tennessee at their weekly Mobile Food Pantry. As I traveled to Frayser, I realized I had never experienced a food pantry before, other than the donation of food throughout my life. Like many of you, I’ve walked the aisles of stores gathering cans and other items, packed them in bags, and sent them on their way. This would be my first time on the other side, helping families receive the much needed assistance. This already felt very fulfilling to me.

Volunteers with Catholic Charities Mobile Food Pantry

Volunteers with Catholic Charities Mobile Food Pantry

I arrived at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, and quickly noticed the red shirted volunteers. They greeted me warmly. I was able to spend time with many of them, chatting about the layout of the day. They were all very friendly and easy-going, and we connected and learned about one another throughout the morning! Every Thursday, these volunteers gather at different mobile locations in Memphis to pass out a week’s worth of food to families in need. The food is donated mostly through a partnership with the Mid-South Food Bank. Provisions are then sorted, packed, and organized a few days prior to arriving at the mobile location. The food pantry can serve up to 20 families each week, and 16 filled the list today. Families who are in the most need in the area are identified and eligible to receive assistance.

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Prepacked food totes at Catholic Charities Mobile Food Pantry

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Non-perishable food bags at Catholic Charities Mobile Food Pantry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As people started to arrive, totes and coolers began to pop open. Groceries were compiled for each family, including non-perishable items, meats, fruit, and vegetables. All items were placed in a tote on a dolly for ease of transportation. I was pleased to help cart and load these groceries for many people. I heard almost everyone say thank you, and if not, I saw it from the smiles on their faces. Their stories remain untold, but I knew this week they’d be fed, thanks to the outreach of the Catholic Charities.

Loading groceries for a family with Catholic Charities Mobile Food Pantry

Loading groceries for a family with Catholic Charities Mobile Food Pantry

Loading a family's portion of fruit with Catholic Charities Mobile Food Pantry

Loading a family’s portion of fruit with Catholic Charities Mobile Food Pantry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know how often you think about your weekly grocery trips or the meals that you prepare. Hunger may not be a common topic in your home, so I invite you to do a few things. Offer gratitude for the food that nourishes you daily. Don’t take for granted the ability to feed yourself and your families with relative ease. Get involved in outreach devoted to fighting hunger. There are opportunities on both sides, whether you want to interact with those who need assistance or simply donate food items when you can. It’s all worthwhile. Catholic Charities is just one of many organizations in Memphis that accepts donated food and welcomes volunteers. There are innumerable causes in the world today, but helping someone with a basic need, like food, is an important contribution.