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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Guest Post: Finding My Niche

Eliana is married and has kids and a dog and is the only woman in her ward who kept her maiden name, which has provided thirteen years of awesome conversation. She writes and teaches English at a community college and swims and travels and tries not to go crazy. Read Eliana's first guest post here.

Photo by Nojae Kim via Capital Area Food Bank Brand Central.

At my local food bank, you can get an emergency food box six times a year. Volunteers fill a shopping cart with available goods: expired bread, donated farm produce, canned goods, one package of hotdogs, a whole chicken, generic cereal, and damaged bakery products. You give me your blue approval slip of paper listing the number of people in your household; I trade you enough groceries for a lean week of eating.

After more than a decade living in my city, I began wanting to do more than donate blood twice a year and give money to a few local charities. This is where I live, where I am raising my family. This is my community and I needed to act like it.

One windy Saturday morning I ventured out with a crew of graffiti busters to paint a mile of concrete fence a slightly different shade of tan. A few dozen of us spread out, rolling the thick paint up and down and further down. By the end I was splattered with sand mixed with dirt, afraid to drive my car without a towel on the seat.

I tried the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, watching videos to learn about the seven point mission of the organization. I endured endless meetings discussing protocol for handling the most common type of disaster--fires--and waited for a call. In eight months, I went out to two fires; assisting families unsure of where to spend the night after their homes were damaged.

I left Red Cross at the end of the year, wanting more hands on and less management, sad to leave the impressive group of volunteers I’d come to know.

My husband and four year old were less than thrilled when I announced a family field trip to the food bank for a tour. The cavernous space held pallets of food for different programs—for the elderly, travelers passing through, community purchased boxes, and emergency needs. Giant coolers of donated produce from area fields, and more bread than a well-stocked grocery store.

While there wasn’t anything we could do as a family, I was struck by the way people here at the food bank were actually doing something. They prepared boxes for distribution, interacted with customers, sorted and shelved and cleaned and more. Instead of talking and planning, the food bank seemed to provide an opportunity where I could do real good.

Nola, square at five feet tall with strawberry blonde hair and thick glasses, took me under her wing when I began coming in one afternoon a week. A box of basics from this room, cheese from this fridge, two cans from here, around in a slow circle checking to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Living on disability income, recent bus changes in town have made Nola’s life difficult. She volunteers at the food bank most days and gets a ride home when she can. Quick with kindness and her life story, Nola fills me in on the intrigue of various helpers and their sometimes legal quirks.

When I have to give up my hours to deal with my young children, I miss the food bank. Here I didn’t just take up space or mill around. My hours were busy, dusty, sweaty, and full. People came in need and I helped them get food to tide them over till things looked up a bit. I didn’t solve their financial problems, conquer their addictions or demons. But I did make sure that they’d be fed for a while. A full stomach is requisite for most life improvements after all. Not bad for an afternoon of my time.

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