I arrived at the Reach In Action distribution location around 12pm not realizing many volunteers spend around seven hours working there from set up to break down. All seven hours are spent on their feet – without a planned break or lunch. Of course as volunteers, the amount of time you work, how fast you work and how long you work is completely self managed. However, once you see all that needs to be done, something inside just makes you want to work hard to give back. I was no exception.
I spent a lot of time doing things I haven’t done on a paying job like warehouse work of lifting and packing boxes. I picked through egg cartons to remove the broken ones as well as sifting through produce for spoiling or bruised fruit and vegetables. Gloves were necessary and the pace was hectic at times. There always seemed to be people waiting for food. A lot of people just waiting for something to eat. We always needed to fill another box because people were …well, waiting for help from us.
I did wonder about the volunteers that show up week after week, year after year in the cold and the rain. Sometimes to be disrespected by those who they volunteered their time to help. Many times underappreciated and taken for granted. Who are these people and what keeps them coming back?
I pulled Jamie, one of the workers in charge, aside one early afternoon to ask her this question. She sometimes has her young daughter sitting next to her at the front table to assign numbers to those needing a box. Organizing the distribution process using numbered tickets has cut down on problems that had arisen from line cutting or even perceived line cutting. She is one of the faces of the operation to many because often she is the first or only person they encounter. She is dedicated because she feels strongly about doing what she can do to fill a need.
“If ever I have an opportunity to serve, I always take advantage of that.” It’s that type of thinking that has allowed the outreach program she serves to keep running. Volunteers are a big part of any program to help the needy – volunteers and funding. Jamie’s wish list is to be able to get the funding for a building since the food distribution is currently done in a parking lot. She wants to continue feeding the hungry, but helping children has always been heavy on her heart.
“…we will be gearing programs towards children and needy families, broken families. To mentor, sow into their hearts….for me it’s the children. Someone needs to be there for them.”
Jamie has already created partnerships with a few schools to do specific or individual events, but she would like to forge an ongoing connection with as many area schools as possible. She believes the school system is a great way to identify and reach children in the most need.
“You won’t see mothers with their kids out – they don’t want to lose their kids. You don’t see them that much, but the group who comes for food tells us about the kids. But the schools know. A lot of kids live in cars…live in the woods and still go to school.”
Going out into the woods or homeless camps to look for these families is a dangerous task for anyone, no matter how noble the purpose. Jamie understands that, but remains steadfast with the notion that in time she will be able to reach them. It’s just a matter of time and prayer.