A 21st Century Journalism Project

Lending a Helping Hand

In Organizations on April 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm

BY:GALEN DUFF

Cindy Soltys is a retired mother of three. She has volunteered at the Second Harvest Food Bank every week for the past 20 years. “My husband works full time and he provides for us so I thought it was important to give something back.”

In an economy where people work two to three jobs to feed their families, they often need to utilize supplemental food programs like food pantries and soup kitchens.

However, some people are more fortunate because their lucky, they feel the need to give back to their communities.

Many people volunteer at the food bank every week. They help pack and unpack boxes for distribution and separate huge bags of bulk food into smaller portions. “Keebler bags their cookie crumbs from the cookies they make in a big bag and sends them to the food bank…we separate them into smaller bags so each family can have one.” Volunteers are there every day making sure things like this get done.

Karen Seggi is Executive director of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania. she knows the importance of volunteers. “Our volunteers are our hidden resource”, she says some people volunteer there on a weekly basis.

helping hands of all ages

Volunteers at the food bank range in age and economic status. They include retirees as well as college students who volunteer between classes. Although Cindy is retired, she volunteered even when she was working.

“The food bank overall is a pretty quiet place, our biggest days (for volunteers) are Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” Says Paul Friend, the warehouse manager at The Second Harvest Food Bank that’s when families come to the food bank and help pack boxes, sort food, help put food on pallets, and load the food into trucks to be shipped all a crossed Northwest Pennsylvania.

The Second Harvest Food Bank accepts volunteers of all ages. Children as young as third grade can volunteer as long as they’re supervised by an adult. After the age of 14, anyone can volunteer. People simply walk in and ask to help but there are many rules and regulations.

people packing up cans of food

Another volunteer who we’ll call Sandy. She was performing mandated community service, after she finished her community service, the food bank signed off on the hours she has completed. Like many community service volunteers, Sandy chose to continue with the food bank.

Cindy doesn’t remember ever using the food bank, but her father used food stamps during a strike where he wouldn’t cross the picket line and had 10 mouths to feed.

Although Cindy doesn’t remember directly experiencing hunger, she spoke of the many people she had seen and talked to during her 20 years at the food bank.

Sandy is no stranger to struggle. She grew up “poor”. Her mom was a waitress and her dad was unemployed, so her family used the food bank until her dad found a job.

Sandy feels she is indebted to the place that gave her so much. Sandy learned what it was like to live below the poverty line and vowed to help as many people as she could so this doesn’t happen to them.

“Hunger is a symptom of poverty, if poverty can be addressed than hunger will be solved.  No matter how many programs we have, we will never be able to fix poverty but hunger, we can treat the problem” says Seggi.

There are many people like Cindy and Sandy all over the country that volunteer their time at food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens every week that are trying to help their neighbors.

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