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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Week 10, Day 3: Rae-Anne Pitts at Catholic Charities of West Tennessee

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I have been unemployed for the past seven months, I understand cutting back and spending less, because of this life change. In the past seven months my husband and I have eaten out less and tightened our spending. One prospect I have fortunately never been faced with is the inability to buy groceries. For my third day of the Volunteer Odyssey challenge, I worked with, Catholic Charities of West Tennessee, they give groceries to families who cannot afford them, three days a week; through the Fig Tree Food Pantry. What they do is something wonderful and meaningful.

 

Learning how to make a dry goods bag.

Learning how to make a dry goods bag.

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During my time at the food pantry I helped pack bags and boxes for families of varying sizes. I have donated to food pantries over the years through schools, churches, and food drives. Other than the canned vegetables I donated I had never given much thought to what a needy family receives from food banks. The food pantry tries to give the most balanced bag of food as possible to the families. The bag includes canned vegetables, soups, dry noodles, tuna, peanut butter, and many other options. These bags are usually packed ahead of time. A family of 1-3 will receive a bag, a family of 4-5 will receive a larger box, and a family of 6 or larger will receive a box and a bag. In addition to these dry goods the families are provided fresh bread, a variety of meats, fresh fruits, and vegetables (when available). These items are pulled as the families arrive. The amount of meat and produce also depends on the size of the family. On average the food pantry serves 10-15 families a day. On the day I volunteered we served 13 families. My duties this day were to help pack bags of dried goods, greet families as they came in, and help get items together to send with the families

 

Before I came to Fig Tree Food Pantry, I assumed that when the food pantry is open, families that need groceries just come in to shop. As it turns out, these families are referred to the food pantry by other aide organizations and agencies. Wednesday when I was at the pantry, it was visited by families from Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA), Refuge Services, and the Red Cross. Most of the recipients are not homeless, just unable to make ends meet.

 

One family I met moved to Memphis from Baghdad, Iraq. The parents have a four-year-old daughter. They are alone with no family in Memphis. The food pantry makes special provisions for this family, because they do not eat pork. They make sure to supply them with products that do not contain pork, and instead supply them with beef or chicken. The father told the volunteers that his wife is about to undergo heart surgery. He asked if the volunteers knew a way for him to get someone to stay with his wife, because he is starting a new job.

 

I also met a single mother of four children; she works in a school cafeteria during the school year. However, she does not make enough to support her family during the summer when school is out. She told me how she spent all of her savings in order to send her oldest son to football camp, because he loves playing. The mother also told of the ways she likes to cook, and her love of trying new recipes. She even gave me some cooking tips. In her cooking she is challenged with making the most out of what she has to offer her children. She was grateful for what she was given and it was very inspiring to see her making the best out of her circumstances.

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I loved my time spent at the food pantry. I came away with a greater appreciation for what I have and my family. It is a powerful thing to be able to connect these families with resources they need. Volunteers run the Fig Tree Food Pantry and I could not have asked for a nicer group of people. I hope to go back and help out again.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in public policy, non-profit administration, or social science research. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or raeannepitts@gmail.com

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