Are you curious about volunteering at IFPO?
Read some reflections from students from 6th graders at Maplewood Middle School who volunteered at IFPO in fall 2018.
Tickets, neon colors, waving in the light breeze coming from the church doors. Bright colors of potatoes, kale, eggplants, canned tomatoes, canned sweet peas, canned corn, tikka masala, rye or multigrain bread, diapers, shampoos, conditioners, granola bars, tuna, chicken, and peanut butter fill a warm and dry room. Hundreds of men, women, infants, and children are walking in the middle. Many only speak their native language, many are hungry.
I found out that this is precisely the scene of what was happening in Orange, at the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges. Our class volunteered, and I helped out with a variety of jobs. First, I was handing out canned tomatoes and spaghetti sauce with my mother. Then, Ariela and I went to help escort the customers to what their family needed. Sometimes, we needed to recall some of our Spanish lessons to be able to communicate. There was a very nice lady who spoke only Spanish, and she knew I spoke English. She used very simple Spanish words for me, like “frijoles” for beans. It was surprising how much I could learn. I was able to say, “Hola, como esta usted?” or “Encantado!” but I couldn’t identify most foods in Spanish. This surprised me because I thought we were just there to offer assistance, not to be offered assistance. It was very nice and interesting to learn about a foreign language. After that, I helped give out canned fruits. I noticed many people wanted the pears and the applesauce, not the mixed fruit.
At first, to be honest, I felt a little nervous because I was not sure what to expect. Would there be enough food? Would the customers be friendly? There was enough food, and everyone was extremely friendly despite their uncomfortable situation. Towards the middle, I felt more confident and I decided to try escorting. It felt very fulfilling to help somebody, and just to have a normal conversation. I had a huge conversation with one lady just about a big cabbage she’d seen in the crate.
I learned that poverty doesn’t just exist in storybooks we read. It exists all over the world, like a universal disease. It’s not your fault that you caught a cold, just like it’s not the peoples' fault that they can’t find a job to support their families. Also, normally we think of poverty as “homeless”, like in New York City. At least, I did. Now I realize that poverty can be a range from on the streets to not being able to feed your children dinner every night. Either way, poverty is a terrible thing. Either way, those children are going to sleep on an empty stomach.
I learned that I actually like helping out. I always thought donation was a wonderful thing, but I never really had a broad understanding of where my old Dr. Seuss books or my too-small socks had gone. I always assumed they were just delivered to children’s cancer institutions, which is one place but not all. I also wondered where the Bombas socks were donated to when I bought new Bombas socks. By volunteering, I realized that there are places like this the world needs, and I realized that I wanted to contribute. Donating is one thing, volunteering is another.
This experience changed me because it opened up new doors for me.
As we turned the corner, a beaming man in a winter jacket raised up his hand for a high five. Sam, who was in front of me, jumped to reach his hand, and I followed, slapping it as I walked by. Another man was standing next to the door, smiling and welcoming us inside. Their kindness made me smile too. It’s hard not to be cheerful around those types of people.
Upon entering the building, I saw a bustling group of people unloading boxes, writing on clipboards, and setting up tables full of food. We were ushered over to a table and given a bright orange vest and a name tag. My classmates and I joked around and laughed with each other. I found a sense of community. We were all part of the same team and we were all working together. During the time I was at the food pantry, I handed out winter clothes, packed boxes of oranges, and escorted clients to get their food. While I was doing all of those jobs, I realized everyone volunteering was working towards one common goal: to help people. It didn’t matter how or why, we were all there to help.
While I was packing oranges and handing out winter clothes, I felt that same sense of community. I was working with other volunteers, and we were all striving for the same thing, whether it was making sure a lady found a perfect pair of gloves for her son, or trying to pack oranges fast enough so all the clients would get a bag.
My favorite job I did was escorting. I liked this job so much because I got to learn so much. I got to look into the lives of the people I was escorting. One lady told me all about her daughter and showed me the hat and gloves she had she had picked out for her. While I was escorting, I also learned that hunger isn’t like I thought it was. I pictured people that needed to go to the food pantry as ragged, dirty people, but that was not the case. The people I escorted could have been my neighbors. They were well groomed, friendly, and grateful. You really can’t tell whether someone is hungry or not.
I have donated all my old clothes to charities and food pantries, but I have never actually experienced theses places for myself. Volunteering at the food pantry made me realize how much I like to pysically help by volunteering, not just donating. It’s much more rewarding to give someone your old hat and see how their faces brighten up when they receive it then to just send in your old clothes. Even in the clients weren’t getting my clothes, they were still extremely grateful and they cheered up once they found the perfect item.
Working at the food pantry changed me by showing me that ordinary people can be hungry, homeless, or in poverty. These people can be any age and from anywhere in the world. And they aren’t people you should be scared of. They are kind, loving, and freindly.
The number cards people give, with colorful tickets each person has, the crowded room gives you a feeling, a feeling of happiness. When you arrive you are greeted with very nice generous people volunteering to help the people in need of food, and clothes. Whenever you greet someone new they treat you with dignity and respect, they take really good care of you in every way. When I was almost done finishing escorting a lady, she told to watch her baby son who was in the stroller because she needed to get her daughter, which really made me feel responsible.
When I got chosen to be an escort I was very nervous and also excited to see the new people and hear their life stories if they wanted to share. As soon as I got the person I needed to help I greeted them, and asked how their Thanksgiving has been going. After that it just led to a normal conversation. After the first one, I felt very confident and really started to get the hang of it. I had gotten a few people that did not speak that very well English and did my best to tell them how their day was going and tried to speak Spanish to one lady. I just said the basics like hola, Como estas. After a couple of escorts some people who volunteered their they told me if I could be one of the people giving them the fresh produce, which was fun, but I did like escorting better.
I never really thought that people that don’t have that much money, couldn't afford food, A lot of people that came here had children which really made me sad because the parents had to deal with their kids not getting food before heading to school, or going to sleep which must be a very harsh thing on the parents because no one wants to have this gulity feeling about not feeding their kids because they have low income. Something else I never really thought about was that a lot of these people dressed just like us, and you would never really know that they might be dealing with these type of problems, so with this, I feel like it can be their type of hope.
Something I learned from this experience is to not to judge people from how they look or maybe by what they do because by learning all those peoples storys it really made me feel that everyone has something that can teach someone, but overall this was a really good experience and it was very fun. I hope I can do this again somehow because helping is one of the best activies someone can do.
These reflections are based on a recent visit by 6th-grade students from Maplewood Middle School under the supervision of Mr. Ray Mantes, 6th grade Social Studies & Service Learning Teacher.