In light of the current economic crisis facing our nation, I decided to start volunteering at our local food pantry. Maybe the connection isn’t obvious, but all of the news I’ve been reading about people struggling to make ends meet made me realize how disconnected I am to needs in my own backyard. I spend so much time and energy trying to raise awareness around the situation for poor women in developing countries while remaining disconnected from my neighbors experiencing similar hardships. I had to change that.
Yesterday was my first afternoon to volunteer at the Tualatin Schoolhouse Food Pantry near my home. I showed up at 3pm at the portable classroom converted into a social services center. My arrival coincided with the pantry’s opening time. Already 6 or 8 families and individuals milled about in the small waiting area, sipping hot coffee and politely taking small bites of the free chocolate cake sitting out. I was put straight to work packaging day-old bread into clear plastic bags, then moved on to dividing 25-lb bags of sugar and rice into 1-lb quantities. I spent several hours working alongside a handful of other regular volunteers, packaging food in an area adjacent to the waiting area.
Occasionally I’d catch the eye of a young mother juggling several small children or an older man waiting patiently. I’d smile. Sometimes the target of my smile smiled back, sometimes they looked away. I didn’t talk to anyone besides the other volunteers. I didn’t have a chance since my role as a new volunteer was limited to food packaging. But after my two-hour shift was up I left feeling a connection simply because every person who entered those doors was seen. They were seen by me. They were seen by Mike, who runs the food pantry and knows many of the clients by name. They were seen by the other volunteers and they were seen by each other, their neighbors also coming in to pick up some groceries to help stretch their pay check just a little bit further.
So often people in need are simply invisible. Poverty pushes people to the fringe of society and it can be hard to come back if no one knows you’re out there. The food pantry provides nutritious foods to people in my community who need it. Even more than that it serves as a connecting point to put members of my community in touch with one another, so that nobody remains unseen. I’ll be back on a Monday afternoon soon and I can’t wait.