Volunteering is a key component of the Junior Ambassadors program at the Food Bank. It exposes young students to the needs of others that may go unnoticed, and teaches them the value of service in strengthening their community.
Meaningful volunteer opportunities also provide experiences that can help the students better understand the importance of advocacy for those facing food insecurity, especially when they work in client-facing settings and interact with people who experience hunger. Talking with and serving clients provides a unique perspective on the impact one can make.
In addition to their regular monthly meetings and volunteering nights at the Food Bank, the Junior Ambassadors were recently invited to volunteer at the People’s Pantry, one of the Food Bank’s Partner Agencies. When the group of students stepped through the doors of the pantry, they weren’t sure what to expect. Many of them had never volunteered at a pantry before or interacted directly with our clients. By the end of the night spent connecting with people there, students were asking when they could return to volunteer again.
After becoming acquainted with the various spaces of the pantry and tasks available, the students split into small groups. Some served meals, others packed grocery bags, and a few distributed clothes and books to each person who walked through the doors.
Anna Hartshorne, a returning Junior Ambassador, enjoyed volunteering at the People’s Pantry because she saw it as an opportunity to help her community and interact with people who don’t ordinarily cross her path.
“One of the qualities of an outreach program that I look for is the opportunity to interact with both volunteers and guests,” Anna said. “As I welcomed guests at the People’s Pantry, I had conversations that made me realize the power and potential of connecting with others through service.”
Anna helped guests find different books and magazines at the book table, all while chatting and trading book recommendations and stories with the people browsing. Some people took a book or two, while others carried out armloads. “I’ll bring them all back next week when I’m done, and I’ll trade you,” one man cheerfully told Anna as he left with a large stack of books. Hunger can be stressful and disheartening, but the offering of books and kind conversation with Anna lifted spirits.
Another returning Junior Ambassador, Patrick Zetik, felt the experience gave him a new outlook on the importance of volunteering. “Volunteering with the People’s Pantry gave me a new level of knowledge about the people we’re serving and how this affects their life on a day-to-day basis.”
Patrick assisted clients with their groceries and helped carry bags to their cars. Many guests were seniors, one of our most vulnerable and food-insecure populations, who struggled to carry the weight of the food. These short walks allowed him to speak one-on-one with people and hear a little of their stories. Patrick now has a better understanding of some circumstances that can lead to food insecurity.
These compassionate Junior Ambassadors are training to be future policymakers, educators, and community leaders. Volunteering teaches them how to lead, advocate, and serve. These students will learn their actions and voices can spark change and growth in the world. Our community truly is better because of them.