St. Francis House is always buzzing with people. Volunteers stock the warehouse. Clients shop the food pantry. Combined, more than 150 people come into St. Francis House each day. No matter how they’re connected to the food pantry, their lives are changed.
In the summer of 2018, a woman named Joy joined the volunteer crew for the Summer Food Service Program, which is a federal program that bridges the gap between school years. Since summers are a time where many children no longer receive at least one nutritionally dense meal per day, this program makes sure lunches are available every weekday. Volunteers like Joy served them out of a CSS hallway.
On Joy’s last afternoon, she talked about how she had worked out a schedule to donate her time regularly. Since the school semester would resume the next week, Joy was reflecting on her experience volunteering over the summer. “I thought I’d help them,” she said. “But really they helped me.” Joy smiled and leaned against the table where boxed lunches for children had been piled, though few remained. One of the biggest lessons she learned was about kindness and giving to people in-need.
Joy shifted her weight and recounted a story about a father of three little boys. Her voice changed a bit as she talked. The impact of the story on Joy was evident by how her eyebrows moved. She said that she saw this family almost weekly. Each time they came to St. Francis House, two of the sons ran alongside their dad and one rode in a stroller. She learned the baby had been born premature. Joy guessed the baby must have been about nine-months-old, since he was learning to eat solid foods and the father said he had a big appetite. Even though all three children got a boxed lunch, the baby could only eat some of the food. So his brothers often gave their applesauce, bean dip, or crackers to him.
One day, the baby gulped down an applesauce packet, quickly emptying it, and his brothers had no more to share. He started crying. Then a toddler with another family came over and gave the baby the applesauce packet out of his own lunch box.
“He didn’t even hesitate,” Joy said. “And no one told him to do it. I’ve never seen such instinctual kindness.” She paused and smiled again, her eyebrows rising. “Volunteering really changed how I think about others.”
This story about the children and sharing wasn’t the only powerful moment in Joy’s time volunteering for St. Francis House. She recounted several other memories – ranging from a pregnant woman asking for a meal to help feed her unborn baby and a preteen boy coming in for lunch alone. She gave that boy two boxes. Each interaction reminded Joy that anyone can need help and everyone can serve.
At St. Francis House, there is a no-questions-asked policy when it comes to someone shopping our food pantry or participating in the Summer Food Service Program. Not only can families trust they’ll get food here, they can count on it being healthy and filling. On average, 70 families each day take home food for their families from St. Francis House, including fresh produce and lean meats.
Much of the food CSS gives out is available because of the support of donors and volunteers, like Joy. Sometimes supporters walk hungry people through the food pantry. Other times they bring in vegetables from their garden. Perhaps, they run a canned food drive or become a monthly donor. Each of these acts of service ensures that healthy food remains available to hungry families. Supporters make a difference in the lives of people in our community, and those people also make a difference in the lives of supporters when, like Joy, they notice the instinctual kindness we all have.