I recently volunteered at a couple of Senior Feeding sites this past month. During my time at the Regional Food Bank I had always hoped to learn more about the program. We hear a lot about great programs like Food for Kids, which has made an extraordinary impact in the lives of young children, but we sometimes forget about senior citizens as well.
Currently, 68 percent of senior adults in Oklahoma are food insecure and 11 percent are experiencing hunger. Services provided through the Regional Food Bank include senior mobile pantries and senior home deliveries. Mobile pantries visit senior resident sites and many of the mobile pantries visit close to the end of the month, when residents are in great need of help. Seniors receive items like fresh fruits and meat. They also receive basic staple items like milk, cereal and pasta. Through the Home Deliveries program, senior citizens who might not be able to access mobile pantries can have their food delivered to them.
I was able to volunteer at two different sites: the Northcliff Garden Retirement Village in Norman and Andrews Center in Oklahoma City. They’re both mobile pantries where residents can receive food assistance. When I arrived at Northcliff Retirement Center, one of our trucks was parked outside and Dennis, a Regional Food Bank driver assigned to the Senior Feeding route, was outside setting up tables and laying out palettes of food for the residents. After staring at a mound of food sprawled across three long tables, I thought it would be wise to ask how the operation ran. After being instructed on the ins-and-outs of distributing food to the seniors I awkwardly ambled my way around the palettes and packed bags with fresh fruits and meats.
The distribution went by quickly; residents were ready with their carts and baskets and quietly made their way through the line. I managed to chat with a couple of people as the line moved along. I spoke to a woman named Patricia, who lived and worked in Norman for most of her life. She had only just moved and was relatively new to the center but was adjusting to her new home. Other residents were chatting to each other, stopping to joke around with site coordinators. It was great to see everyone with energy and enthusiasm and it was something that I noticed when volunteering at the Andrews Center just a few days later. Almost every individual passing through said thank you or had a big smile on their face as they passed through, or joked with the staff before sitting down to converse amongst themselves.
The Food Bank’s Senior Feeding Coordinator has many stories about the people being served through our programs. One story in particular stuck out, about a woman who used to donate to the Food Bank for years. After the passing of her husband 10 years ago she eventually had to stop and now has to rely on donations from the Food Bank. It’s easy to take for granted an act as simple as getting a meal. For most of us we never question when we will eat or where we will get our food. We also forget about the many people who make up the faces of hunger. What comes to mind for many are children who are food insecure, but it’s also important to remember that seniors are among the most vulnerable and often the least remembered. Seniors who have worked hard their whole lives probably never imagined they would end up where they are today. I’m just glad the Regional Food Bank is there to provide them with food so that they have one less thing to worry about.
Generally, when anyone thinks of high school they inevitably dwell on unpleasant memories. Although for me high school wasn’t like an episode of “Party of Five.” I had my moments of angst where I wallowed in self-pity. Most teenagers share these characteristics and have a tendency to overlook the truly important matters in life. For the average student, the issue of hunger is a distant worry and the thought that a fellow student would personally deal with hunger on a daily basis is unthinkable, but for many students, hunger is a reality they face every day.
Fortunately, programs like the W.H.I.R.E. provide hope and resources to students and their families. The program is based out of the Western Heights Public Schools district and provides services, like a food pantry, clothing closet, counseling and DHS benefits; it’s a program started in conjunction with School-based Social Specialists, or the SBSS. It also features the summer feeding program that provides students with meals during the long summer months. The entire resource center is the only one of its kind in the area and largely operates on its own, providing social services to anyone living within the district. When I visited the school pantry at the Western Heights Resource Center, I was really amazed at the diversity of resources offered by the school. I spoke to Angel, Jean and Jason who are the coordinators for the program. On average the school serves almost 30 to 40 families a month and has seen an exponential growth in the number of families needing assistance. The school’s student population is approximately 4,000 and of those students, 85 percent rely on free and reduced price school meals. The pantry itself has been in existence for six months and started after students asked about getting food assistance when visiting the clothing closet. The program’s coordinators also realized that there wasn’t a school pantry available to students and their families on their side of the city, thus, the pantry was born.
Since the summer, word of mouth about the pantry has spread, and clients include non-students who heard about the program and its services. It’s a unique feature of the pantry, the fact that anyone who lives within the district can have access to the services provided by the pantry. Students who utilize the service also have the chance to interact with social workers from the SBSS. Each school within the district is assigned with a social worker and this connection emphasizes the school’s mantra of providing the resources necessary for a child to thrive in his or her environment. Students who need extra help outside of receiving food and clothing get referrals to DHS or organizations like Infant Crisis Services. According to Angel, it’s not uncommon for a student to be the head of a household and serve as the main provider for the family, and they will often ask to be referred to resources outside of the pantry. When I asked about what drives the ethos of the program, Hayden the school coordinator, noted that the pantry serves as the nucleus of the program; students can report to the pantry for food assistance and find other sources of aid if it’s needed. I was really impressed by the W.H.I.R.E.’s ability to serve their community (and admittedly, I was also impressed with his use of the word nucleus and vowed to somehow incorporate the word in my own vernacular).
I asked Angel to give me a brief tour of the facility. The food pantry and clothing closest occupy a small amount of space within what was once the middle school, now converted to be the resource center. As we passed through the pantry, I noticed old chalk boards and other remnants from the school’s past. Angel makes sure to show me the walk-in freezer, now nestled towards the back of the old stage. She proudly picks up some vacuum-sealed frozen meats and mentions the impact having refrigeration and storage for perishable items has had on the pantry. The pantry does provide a wide range of what students and their families can have access to, beyond nonperishable items like dry pastas and canned goods. The freezer is piled high with the frozen product, most of which is donated by the Regional Food Bank. She also mentions that the food bank provides fresh produce for the pantry and shows me another cooler used to store fruits and vegetables.
I asked Angel about the students and their families who came into the pantry for assistance. She told me about one family who recently came in after being evicted from their home and were forced to spend a couple of nights living under a bridge. When the family was able to seek shelter at a nearby motel, they went to the school pantry for assistance. Other stories include that of a student attending Western Heights High School who often visits the pantry to get groceries for his mother and three sisters. He’s the main provider for the family and also lends his time to the pantry, volunteering to help the coordinators with the spare time he has.
The Western Heights School District’s W.H.I.R.E. program has grown substantially since its inception fourteen months ago; from its humble beginnings as a clothing closet to its present state as the district’s primary resource center. And the coordinators show no signs of slowing down their rampant progress. They hope for the program to become a fully operational “one-stop shop” for its clients within the year. The biggest challenge for the coordinators is facing the prospect of the food pantry’s inevitable fate of reaching capacity, when there are too many clients to serve and not enough food to hand out. Judging by what the program has accomplished so far, it’s a challenge they’ll meet head on.
It’s September, when school is well under way, and individuals celebrate the last official summer holiday by throwing things on the grill and flooding retail stores. It’s the last hoorah for everyone before the fall months come. Parents get back in the routine of dropping off and picking up the kids from school and perhaps start to think about designing Halloween costumes, PTA meetings and figuring out how to pass off hand me downs to dismayed younger siblings. At least I think this is what parents do, that’s what always happens on TV shows anyways.
Aside from the hustle and bustle of returning to a busy routine after the lazy summer months, September at the Regional Food Bank means it is Hunger Action Month. Hunger Action Month is a nationwide event that is meant to inform and mobilize the public about the issue of hunger. It encourages individuals to take an initiative to fight hunger. Wanting to take part in this initiative, I decided to participate in one of the activities by volunteering on a Thursday night, which is the Rock n’ Box open volunteer night. Rock n’ Box is meant to be a volunteer opportunity with a fun twist. Each night is a different theme: one night could be karaoke night, another is family movie night or they could even have Stellar DJ be there. Many large groups and individuals come and help pack boxes or pack and seal frozen vegetables for a few hours while rockin’ it out to their favorite tunes. The night I was volunteering happened to be Golden Oldie’s night, a night of Top 40’s music when your grandparents were young. Before starting I admit I was a little nervous. I hadn’t volunteered in a while and was unaware of the protocol. When you walk in to the volunteer center on a busy day the volunteers are usually absorbed in their work and talking to other volunteers. They know exactly what they’re doing and perform their assigned tasks with frighteningly skillful capability. Naturally, it’s a little daunting walking into this situation.
Thursday night after work I ventured over to the volunteer center. Liz and Dan, the volunteer coordinators, were moving around the warehouse getting everything ready while volunteers slowly trickled in. Once everyone had gathered, people were divided into groups. I chose to pack wax beans. We were split into groups of “packers,” “weighers” and “sealers”. There were a few people assigned to each task. As I sealed bags of frozen beans I looked up and saw many people hunched over, shoveling beans into bags and waddling over to the people standing at the scales, waiting to weigh the bags for packaging. I nervously waited for the first bag to make its way in front of me and quickly assessed whether I made the right decision to be a sealer. I briefly entertained the idea of switching to the other side of the table to be a weigher. I mean it wouldn’t be difficult right? Just put the bags on the scale and make sure the number matches with the number on the bag. But looking at the girl in front of me, her eyes darting back and forth, moving beans from one bag to another to balance the scale, I changed my mind and opted to pack the bags with beans. However, after staring at the mountain high boxes containing hundreds of pounds of beans I gave up on that idea as well. It seems silly for me to fret over this but it’s never fun to be the new kid in class who can’t color in the lines and have everyone notice their egregious mistakes. Who wants to stick out like a sore thumb?
I started sealing the overwhelmingly large pile of frozen veggies in front of me, (and avoiding melting the plastic) while listening to old-time singers crooning on about finding love, lost love, unrequited love and love of blue suede accessories (that was what Elvis was singing about right?). The night went by quickly as volunteers chatted with each other and the empty cardboard boxes behind us quickly filled up with frozen product. And out of nowhere all movement stopped as Liz gave us instructions on cleaning up our section of the warehouse. At the end of the shift Liz merrily announced the final results of our volunteer efforts. The entire group, within the span of two short hours, had packed and sealed 150 cases of beans which is approximately 5,100 pounds of beans which will provide 3,923 meals to hungry Oklahomans.
Despite my initial anxieties, it was worth it. Volunteering at the Food Bank reminded me of the hard work and effort it takes to keep food going out to our partner agencies and to the public. I encourage everyone to go to Rock n’ Box or volunteer during the morning and afternoon shifts. We sometimes get caught up in our own lives and it’s important not to forget about the impact we can make in the lives of others.
To find out how you can help during Hunger Action Month please visit our website.
Waking up at the crack of dawn and heading off to work last week I noticed two things:
The air was noticeably cooler, giving me hope that the sun was finally taking a break from melting the population of Oklahoma, like ants under a magnifying glass.
- It was the crack of dawn.
My intention of waking up at an absurd hour (absurd for me at least) was to meet one of our drivers and go on a ride along; try to see what a driver does on a typical day. I was given the chance to hang around with Mike, a driver who’s been around for about a year and half.
Before the trip he checked the truck for any problems. The drivers have to know if there’s something wrong before they embark on their journey. I imagine it would be rather terrifying having a sprocket (is that a technical car term?) come loose during a delivery, especially if you’re a rural driver. Mike is responsible for an urban route, so he usually circles the metro area. On this day he was travelling to two partner agencies to make deliveries and to an Akin’s store to pick up product. Before I left for the trip I was asked by one of the warehouse guys if I brought a helmet – I’m pretty certain he was joking.
The first partner agency we visited was downtown, the First United Methodist Church. Most of us tend to think when a driver’s making a delivery he shows up, drops off the items, and leaves for the next destination. This wasn’t true in Mike’s case. After hauling the food out of the truck on pallet jacks, he took the time to help the staff at the agency transfer the food into the facility and helped them figure out where to put everything! Drivers deliver a variety of product – including “dry product” like cereal, crackers, etc. that are loaded onto the trucks the day before. Then the next day, frozen foods, vegetables and bread are added to the load. It usually takes a metro driver about 10 to 15 minutes to unload the donations because those deliveries carry a smaller load and are made more frequently. A rural driver, on the other hand, may spend up to 2 to 3 hours unloading product at one site because they make much larger deliveries in larger trucks on a less frequent basis. Metro drivers may make a delivery to an agency once a week or every other week and rural drivers may deliver only once or twice a month.
What’s interesting for the drivers, because they have been doing this for so long, is that many of them have a pretty good idea about what each agency needs. They know when an agency on their route is going to need extra food to help feed the growing number of families who come to the agency. This ability to attune to what the partner agencies need is derived from the hundreds of trips the drivers make. On average, the drivers will make 1,000 deliveries in a month. According to Mike, he accrues on average about 1,000 to 1,500 miles a month and that’s only in the metro. Rural drivers naturally accumulate a staggering amount of miles. Drivers travel as far out as the panhandle to make their deliveries. A drop off at an agency in Guymon could take up a whole day.
During the trip, I noticed Mike was able to maneuver the truck in the most precarious situations. Driving through narrow alleyways, parallel parking, making sharp turns and not rolling over the curb was no problem for him. I can’t even do those things in my own car. On the way back Mike talked about what happens when the driver returns after making a pick up from one of our retail donor locations. After picking up donations the driver will head back to the Food Bank, back up to the loading dock, unload the product and take it to the back of the warehouse where donations can be sorted into large bins. Donations can be both food and non-food items. The bins are labeled with large signs designating a bin to hold items like dry product, canned goods, jars, hygiene products. After everything is sorted and boxed by volunteers, it is put into our inventory where a partner agency can order it and Mike can deliver it. It’s kind of a nice way to end things, everything comes full circle.
At the end of the trip, when I entered the warehouse and walked back to my office, I stopped to look at the towering shelves stocked full of items. It is amazing to think that all of that product is shipped out every day and feeds thousands of hungry Oklahomans but I suppose with drivers like Mike it’s an everyday reality. And after all I learned, I guess it wasn’t so bad waking up that early after all.
Recently, I was able to briefly escape the mountain of paperwork sitting atop my desk to visit a Food for Kids Summer Feeding site. Martin Luther King Elementary is one out of 30 sites located in the metro serving meals to children ages 0 to 18. Children get the opportunity to eat healthy, balanced meals during the summer months when schools aren’t in session and when programs like the Food for Kids Backpack Program are on break.
Martin Luther King Elementary is the main site where all meals are packed and distributed by our drivers. The process is orchestrated by Brenda, the maestro of operations. She oversees everything from the hub of operations, the cafeteria kitchen. When I entered the kitchen I was greeted with the humming of everyone working diligently, packing meals and planning everything for the next day.
Growing up and attending school I always wondered what happened behind the scenes, beyond the trays filled with grilled cheese sandwiches and mounds of fruit filled wobbly Jell-O. I never dared to venture beyond that border, so heavily guarded by lunch ladies donning hairnets ready to swat unruly students with spatulas. So stepping into the kitchen and catching a glimpse of what actually goes on was rather exciting.
Lunch ladies get a bad rep of being outwardly disdainful of children serving them “mystery meats” scavenged from old gym mats. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration but pop culture has never been too kind to them. When was the last time you saw a lunch lady portrayed without a mole? Meeting Brenda anyone would relinquish this silly notion.
When I met her she was all smiles and happy to answer whatever questions we had. During the tour I was able to see the cavernous freezer which stored meals ready to be shipped out. There was staff in the back chatting while making veggie wraps for students. Work starts at the crack of dawn preparing the kitchen for the day’s work, making the meals and packing meals in containers that are picked up by one of our drivers. There are 4 drivers running 4 routes delivering meals to all summer feeding sites and so far in June alone 59,300 meals have been served. It’s an astronomical number considering the amount of work that’s put into making the meals and finding enough people to help out. At the Martin Luther King site 90 students are fed per week. Along with 4 new drivers lending a helping hand with the program 16 people also came on board to work in the kitchen preparing healthy meals for the kids. It’s a wonder for anyone to take on such a daunting task but luckily everyone seemed to meet the challenge with great gusto, especially Brenda.
When asked why she wanted to participate in the program she said, “It’s a good feeling, when you look at the statistics. If I can help that one child, it’s so fulfilling.” Brenda went on to mention the story of a father who brought both of his kids to the site and was glad there was a place where children can go to eat a healthy meal. They are part of a large number of families whose children need assistance during the summer months. Last year, according to a 2010 survey about the Summer Feeding Program, about 90 percent of parents said they needed Summer Feeding for their children. It’s a tough time during the long, often punishing, summer months when families have to choose between paying the rising costs of utility bills and providing a meal for their children.
When we left the school I turned back for one last glance at the cafeteria. Brenda went back to helping the staff and I could see her beaming as she packed sack lunches amidst the chatter of students escaping the heat for a meal. It’s been a tough challenge expanding the program and providing meals to so many children but Brenda and everyone who works with her prove that it is possible.
Humans are notorious for being curious. We want to know how everything works, explore the farthest reaches of the universe and figure out even the most inane mysteries, like how they make Gobstoppers everlasting. (Hint: it doesn’t involve the work of an eccentric confectioner and his tiny helpers). Recently, my own curiosity got the best of me while I was staring out the window of a co-worker’s office. I was watching a warehouse employee drive by on a pallet truck with a heavy load of food. I started to wonder about what happens in our Warehouse.
I pass through the Warehouse facilities on the rare occasion I remember to dump out my recycling bin and I always see the blur of people riding around on pallet trucks moving heavy boxes but I can never figure out what they’re actually doing. So, to ease my curiosity I interviewed Mancel and Cordera who work in the Warehouse as order selectors.
Q: Why did you start working at the Food Bank?
Mancel: I started working during the recession around July 2009. My cousin told me about working at the Food Bank and how it’s more satisfying working at a place like the Food Bank because you know you’re helping out a lot of people.
Cordera: I started working here through a temp agency about 6 months ago and I’d heard about the Food Bank before. I’d heard about all the work they do in the community.
Q: What does an order selector do at the Regional Food Bank?
Cordera: Order selectors are like the veins of the Food Bank; we keep the food going.
(Above: Cordera has loaded the food onto the pallet and is taking it over to be wrapped.)
Mancel: When agencies make their orders we have to make sure we pull the right products for them. We use what’s called Voxware, which is voice picking software that tells us what to pull to load the pallets. Our job is all about quality assurance, making sure the food is stacked properly and preventing damage of products.
(Above: Mancel on a pallet truck.)
Q: What happens on a normal day at the Food Bank?
Cordera: We start off by getting our equipment, like our pallet trucks and then we log in to Voxware, which tells us what orders to pick and where to place them. We get the pallets then pull orders. After you’re done you wrap the pallet with this giant saran wrap machine, label it and put it in the correct staging area.
Mancel: It might sound easy because the software tells us what orders to pull but it’s tricky because we have to ensure that we put the orders in the right place so when the drivers pick up the orders for delivery, the right order arrives at the correct agency. We don’t want agencies getting food they didn’t order. The order selectors and the drivers have to think alike. We have to be on the same page.
(Above: Orders being wrapped by a machine)
Q: It’s always busy in the Warehouse but is there a time when it’s busier than usual?
Mancel: The beginning of the month is always a little hectic for us because that’s when all the agencies order food for their pantries.
Q: What impact in the community have you seen since your time working at the Food Bank?
(Above: The finished product.)
Mancel: Personally, sometimes people will notice the Food Bank logo on my shirt and won’t hesitate to say how much they appreciate what the Food Bank does.
Cordera: People acknowledge us as something good. Someone once told me that what we do here at the Food Bank is noble, and that means a lot.
Mancel: People are so aware of what we do and they’re not afraid to show how appreciative they are. It means a lot that complete strangers know what the food bank does and they know the impact the Food Bank makes in the community.
‘Twas the season for giving when volunteers swarm around the volunteer center of the Regional Food Bank, frantically packing boxes for the holiday season and a time to give to friends, family, neighbors (if you’re on good terms with them) and giving to the community.
To keep up the holiday spirit, I volunteered at Urban Mission to see how one of our partner agencies operates on a daily basis. When I walked through the doors of the Urban Mission Food Pantry, I didn’t know what to expect when I volunteered there. Perhaps there would be hordes of volunteers packing boxes and going by myself to volunteer seemed a little daunting. It’s intimidating upsetting the established rhythm of a group of diligent volunteers.
After struggling with the parking situation and only managing to park semi-horizontally in a vertical parking spot, I made my way through the chilly afternoon and ambled into Urban Mission. Upon entering the building I was greeted by Jamee, one of the staff members at the food pantry. I noticed to my left about a handful of people, all unrelated, sitting side by side waiting for their names to be called to receive boxes of food that would hopefully last them a month, but in reality may only last one to two weeks.
I started working immediately and Jamee was nice enough to introduce me to the staff. It was a small staff, but just looking at the endless corridor of the warehouse I could tell they worked long hours to help the clients that come through. The warehouse is similar to our warehouse; stuffed with endless boxes of food that must be given out to clients as soon as possible. They have volunteers packing boxes everyday from noon to 4 and warehouse staffers darting back and forth delivering boxes to clients in the bitter cold. I met Laura, a staff member at Urban Mission, and Rose, a regular volunteer and who I consider to be a lost Golden Girl. Rose is 88 and has been volunteering at Urban Mission for almost 30 years. Urban Mission started out as Presbyterian Urban Mission and was attached to the Presbyterian Church before they were able to move to their own facility a few years ago.
Rose put me to work immediately packing boxes for individuals to families of 5 or 6 people. We would wait for printouts with the name of the client and the number of people and get to work pre-making boxes for waiting families. After packing the boxes, we greeted the client in the waiting room and directed the person to the agency dock.
After volunteering, I took a tour with Laura, who showed me around the building. Every year, around early to mid December the Urban Mission hosts an event called the Santa Store, where children of all ages and their families can visit and find gifts. The toys are either donated or purchased with the help of monetary donations. Children enter rooms filled with toys, miniature wonderlands if you will, and pick out a toy as well as a gift for their parents. In the past two years over 1,066 children received toys, clothing and food for the holiday season. Their most recent Santa Store helped 162 families, 251 adults and 491 kids.
Continuing with the tour, Laura showed me a room for their SPARK/Kids Cafe programs. The SPARK program works in conjunction with the Kids café, which provides nutrition education to children. Students can learn about the importance and impact of healthy eating and work in a kitchen with their instructors. After the tour of the classroom I was shown the clothing room, a staple of the Urban Mission. They receive huge amounts of clothing donations each week and volunteers, like the unstoppable Rose, run the clothing room and help serve over 3,000 people each year.
At the end of the tour I made my way back to the food pantry, made my goodbyes and thanked the staff for the wonderful day. The Urban Mission staff asked how Food Bank staff members get everything done with such a small number of people. We’re a staff of only 70 people, but everyone in every department is able to help feed 77,000 people every week. While I would like to tell people we’re a staff of only robots the truth is that the Food Bank is operated by dedicated individuals who believe in the mission of the Food Bank and work with a vengeance in bringing the mission to life every day. It’s the same philosophy at Urban Mission and since its inception Urban Mission has served almost 10,000 people. Urban Mission is an important part of our network of 450 partner agencies (not counting the schools that are signed up with the Food for Kids program) that helps us bring our mission to life every day as well.
Generally, the Volunteer Center is the hub of activity at the Regional Food Bank. On any given day, you’ll walk in and see a swarm of people lifting heavy boxes, packing food and indirectly getting their workout for the day. But for an outsider observing the melee, the experience can be overwhelming. This happened to me when the Federal Aviation Administration and Municipal Employees of Oklahoma City volunteered for United Way’s Day of Caring. They were here to volunteer their time and make an impact in the community. I asked Jamie, our Volunteer Recruiter (and fellow AmeriCorps member) as well as Melanie, our Development Manager, to help introduce me to the two groups. I was able to speak to a few coordinators and poke their brains about how they feel about Day of Caring and volunteering at the Regional Food Bank.
I spoke to Ellen Mills, who helped coordinate this year’s event for her colleagues at the FAA. For her, and the rest of the FAA employees, volunteering here is significant because of the impact the Regional Food Bank has in the local community. As one volunteer put it, the need in Oklahoma is palpable when you simply look at the scope of operations at the Regional Food Bank. You become more aware when you see what gets done at the Regional Food Bank every day. This sentiment was echoed by the previous year’s coordinator, Erik Salazar, who became interested in volunteering here after going on a tour of the facilities and learning more about our programs – specifically our Food for Kids backpack program.
I also spoke to Pete, who came out with other city employees to volunteer as part of United Way’s Heart of the City campaign. This group hadn’t volunteered at the Regional Food Bank before (even though many FAA employees had) but were amazed to see that the Food Bank is capable of doing so much to serve the greater need. I left the volunteers, who were having a friendly competition to see who could pack the most boxes. As I walked away to the sounds of chiming cowbells indicating the completion of another pallet, I couldn’t help but think how truly amazing it is to see people take a few hours out of their day to help the Regional Food Bank work towards a great cause.
12:05 PM on Friday, November 12th, 2010No Comments
As of today, I have officially been an AmeriCorps member for two months. After two months you would probably expect me to know everything it is that I do. Well, I hate to break it to you but I don’t. At least, if you asked me to tell you straight off the bat all the duties I’m in charge of I’d probably go blank and give you a deer in the headlights look. I work at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma as the public awareness development AmeriCorps Member. I work in the marketing/development department and generally my day-to-day activities vary. I might be working on a press release one minute and the next minute I’m hauling boxes to schools and businesses and helping them with food drives. I have a set list of goals I want to achieve and I have my timesheet goals set and ready to go but I don’t have any of it memorized and in answering the question of just what it is I actually do I give them a stock answer.
“I write press releases, help with food drives and assist the marketing department.” It doesn’t sum up everything I do but it suffices. And I’m not trying to sell myself short in terms of my ability; I just have a bad memory when it comes to lists.
I work with other AmeriCorps members as well and their jobs vary greatly from mine. When asking them what exactly they do at the Food Bank their answers more or less resembled my answer. So for the blog post I will give you a narrow view of what it’s like to work at a normal, frenzied day at the Food Bank.
Mason was very elaborate in explaining his duties at the Food Bank, but articulating a flurry of thoughts, punctuated by a vocabulary that would make an Oxford English Dictionary editor blush is part of Mason’s game. Mason’s job as the Kids Cafe Fresh Foods Coordinator is to visit Kids Cafe sites and talk to kids about the importance of eating healthy. He puts on demonstrations where kids learn to cook for themselves. His main aim is to show kids that they can provide meals for themselves by using affordable everyday ingredients. Gourmet is not the goal but liberating kids from habitually eating junky foods is. Although Mason acknowledges that the students he teaches won’t necessarily be able to espouse the virtues of frisee salad just being able to witness a measured improvement in the kids’ ability to learn the basics of cooking is more than enough.
Mark’s job involves lots of numbers, surveys and data analysis. He works in agency capacity development and part of his job is developing surveys for agencies that help him and the Food Bank get an idea of what happens at our agencies and what they need in order to maintain efficient operations.
While talking to Mark I couldn’t help but notice the Spartan-like sparseness of his office walls, which was emphasized by the faint echo in the office. Mark’s done a lot of prep work to get ready for all of his site visits. Reading large text books (the kind you avoid when you go to the library or use to hold up a cheaply made piece of furniture) and contacting people from food banks across the country. His preparations will come in handy. Starting this month Mark will be venturing into the unknown with his survey in his ridiculously tiny Mazda Miata. By the end of the year he will accumulate an obscene amount of mileage on his car since his goal is to visit at least most of the 53 central and western Oklahoma counties. Mark looks forward to the visits; it will be like a perpetual road trip.
Ah Jamie, Volunteer Recruiter extraordinaire and my next door neighbor. Jamie is the volunteer recruiter and is really good at it. On average she’ll receive 40 phone calls/voicemails and double the amount of emails. When I sat down with her to talk about her role at the Food Bank she said she answered lots of phone calls and emails. Her job isn’t a walk in the park though. Part of the perks of being her neighbor is eavesdropping on her conversations with potential volunteers. When it comes to making phone calls and booking individual and group volunteers Jamie is like a customer service expert. She’s super friendly and answers all questions and is patient enough to deal with everyone. During her first year, she booked countless numbers of volunteers who in total put in thousands of volunteer hours.
John is Jamie’s next door neighbor and our capacity building GAP analysis expert. I will often hear him shuffle over to her office and answer her questions about recording volunteer information. Besides recruiting volunteers Jamie has also been working with John with retrieving and storing volunteer information. During the past year they’ve successfully tracked volunteer information and stored the data in a database John created. He’s pretty much eliminated factors that could cause any errors like duplicate names or Jane and John Doe volunteers and has pretty much created the foundation that will help the food Bank recruit volunteers/potential donors.
John is the computer whiz and he uses all sorts of lingo and jargon that someone like me can barely understand. I’m not a technophobe; I can check emails, update blogs and my Facebook profile page just fine. I can’t create databases from nothing and I don’t know anything about coding or different computer systems. John usually starts his day staring at a giant map on his computer screen and is probably in the midst of creating a database for someone in one of the departments. I also frequently see him conversing with Steve Moran, Director of Operations and fellow IT guy.
Dan is usually sweating it out with the rest of the volunteers in our Volunteer Center. He works as volunteer retention which involves a lot hauling around product in the Volunteer Center as well as chatting with the volunteers and fostering an atmosphere of general merriment. Jamie gets volunteers in the door, Dan makes sure they come back. He’s also been working on Rock N’ Box a weekly event in the Volunteer Center. Volunteers pack boxes and jam to whatever music happens to coincide with the day’s designated theme (80’s, disco night, Meatloaf appreciation night, etc.) Generally the Volunteer Center is swamped with people and Dan’s there to make sure everything’s under control.
So that is the whole spiel on what we do at the Food Bank. We are very few in number and our jobs are diverse but somehow we manage to get things done in the midst of everything that goes on here.
1:22 PM on Monday, November 1st, 20101 Comment
As I was sitting at my desk munching away at a popcorn ball and debating the merits of consuming my favorite starchy snack in a comically large spherical form, I decided to do a little research on the origins of the popcorn ball. I didn’t find anything and referred instead to a fellow AmeriCorps member, Mason, who possesses a freakish encyclopedic knowledge about food. When I told him I’d eaten a popcorn ball out of curiosity and revealed to him that I’d never heard of such a thing before, he was both shocked and a little repulsed. He then went on to explain the significance of popcorn and the popcorn ball during 18th century America, due to its non-perishable state and abundance post-harvest season. That’s the cliff notes version of it, but the point I’m trying to make is that Mason knows a lot about food. He knows so much he talks about if for a living by going out to Kids Cafe sites and teaching kids about the importance of eating right.
I decided to go out to a Kids Cafe site during one of Mason’s monthly visits and got to watch him make smoothies for the students at Lambuth United Methodist Church.
Mason at Kid’s Cafe
At Kids Cafe, students who are enrolled in the program participate in educational activities that teach them about the importance of eating nutritious foods. They also receive tutoring, mentoring, homework assistance and engage in character building activities. The program provides a safe environment where students can grow as individuals. For that day’s lesson, Mason had the students help in making pumpkin pie smoothies. (If you’re interested in making a smoothie for yourself, check out the recipe below). Now, it’s important to note the difficulty in teaching children. Teachers fall in either one of two categories: they’re either sickly sweet like Ms. Honey of Roald Dahl fame or as terrifying as a Sister Act nun. Mason doesn’t personify either character; he’s a character unto himself. It’s kind of hard explaining his teaching style, but it was impressive seeing him keep the students engaged in the cooking lesson. They read out the ingredients with enthusiasm and were always willing to lend a helping hand in the kitchen. He was even able to slyly incorporate a quick math lesson with the use of measuring spoons and a blender.
When I talked to site coordinator, Donna Jones, she gave me a tour of the classroom. I walked past a parade of colorful drawings and watched as Donna rifled through old curriculum books from current and past students. Students learn about a variety of topics, like cultural diversity and environmental conservation and all the activities that take place in the classroom are dedicated to learning about each topic. Students stay within the program from 1st to 5th grade and grow closer to their classmates and teacher during those years. I asked Donna if students ever remember the lessons they’ve learned as children and she mentions that not only do they remember they also come back to visit on occasion.
When I went to the Kids Cafe site I didn’t know what to expect. Would I be greeted by a group of apathetic children or a bunch of tiny terrors? Fortunately, I didn’t meet either when I entered the classroom. And, I also walked away learning a little more about the program. When I first got there I knew about the basics of the program but when I left, I realized Kids Cafe is more than just an after school program. For the kids, they leave with lifelong friends and memories.
Recipe for Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
1 cup low-fat milk
½ frozen banana
½ cup canned pumpkin
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp honey
Pinch of salt
4 ice cubes
1. Pour milk, banana, pumpkin, honey, and spices into the blender container.
2. Run on low for 15 seconds, then kick it up to high for another 10.
3. Add the ice cubes and blend on high until smooth.
4. You should be able to drink it with a straw. If it’s too thick, add more milk. If it’s too
thin, add more ice.