Over the past eight months, my responsibilities here at the Regional Food Bank have included scheduling volunteer groups to come and work in our Volunteer Center, and following up with them afterwards. I am constantly surprised at how much the words ‘Thank you’ are used during those conversations and email exchanges. I’m not surprised at how much I say it. I say it a lot, and I’ll come back to that in a moment. I’m surprised at how much the volunteers say it.
Here are some examples:
“Thank you so much for getting our group scheduled. Our team is so excited to come and help!”
“Volunteering last Saturday was great! Everyone in my group was inspired by the act of helping others, and made aware of how truly grateful we are for our living circumstances. Thanks a million!”
“Thank you for the wonderful experience for my daughter and I to share. She had just turned 8 so I was a little concerned she may not be able to do what was planned for us. When her little arms got tired from packing backpacks you found something she COULD do! Thank you!!! She hasn’t stopped talking about all the little kids she helped. WE will definitely be back!”
I’m going to be honest. It’s a little bit awkward for me to receive thanks like this. I mean, think about it. We’ve asked you to give up some of the precious time from your busy schedule to come and perform unpaid manual labor. You’ve agreed to do so, we’ve scheduled an appointment, you’ve followed through with great enthusiasm. That’s amazing. It’s amazing for one person do to it so willingly, but you aren’t one person, are you? We get over 3,000 volunteers each month who donate their time and enthusiasm to our mission of “Fighting Hunger … Feeding Hope.” Volunteers are the driving force behind the work we do here at the Regional Food Bank. Did you know that you saved us over $2 million in manual labor costs last year?
And after all that, you thank me?
We already can’t thank you enough to begin with, but I’m going to keep on trying. This week is National Volunteer Appreciation Week. I hope we appreciate you every week of the year, but I’m going to borrow this platform to say it again:
Thank YOU volunteers. Thank you ever so much. We genuinely couldn’t do this work without you, and I hope you know that.
Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to attend the 2012 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, which was cosponsored by FRAC and Feeding America. This annual conference provides the chance for hundreds of anti-hunger advocates from all corners of the U.S. to convene for the purposes of learning and promoting best practices, hearing stories of both tremendous need and triumph over barriers to food security within our respective communities, and also to share the voice of the hungry and poverty-stricken with our nation’s leaders.
The conference opened with headlining speaker David Shipler, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Working Poor: Invisible in America, who spoke about his years spent traveling across the country trying to capture the true nature of what it means to be an American family living the daily fight against poverty. What Shipler primarily found through speaking with thousands of hardworking individuals and families was a common denominator between those who were employed but still facing the constant climb to find a way out of poverty and into the land of enough – and this common denominator nearly always involved hunger and food insecurity. After the demands of rent, utilities, transportation, and even medical costs often necessary to keep one earning a paycheck, food is usually the only semi-optional expense left on the table (certainly no pun intended). When one’s entire budget is subject to the immediacy of what is necessary to sustain a basic functioning of one’s life, how can we expect hardworking Americans in poverty to lift themselves out of their current situation, and further, how are we surprised when we find out that hunger is real in the United States and in our own communities?
This question was perhaps the purpose of the culmination of the week’s events into the final day of the conference, in which advocates met with their members of Congress to discuss the unacceptable problem of hunger and lobby for workable solutions. I had the pleasure of meeting with several of our Congressmen and their staffers, including Congressman Frank Lucas, the Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. We spoke about what Oklahoma’s food banks have been facing in the past year – a sharp decline in USDA Commodities (53%), rising food insecurity represented through record amounts of Oklahomans having to enroll in SNAP (over 620,000), nearly half of which are children, and our partner agencies that have experienced a 30 – 50 percent increase in the need for emergency food assistance in just the past fiscal year. Most importantly, we discussed the ongoing issue of the Farm Bill, which is the single largest piece of legislation affecting our industry in that it provides dollars that go to vital federal nutrition programs and every type of federal distribution of emergency food assistance. Through speaking with Chairman Lucas, it became clear to me that we are fortunate to have a decision-maker in Congress that seems to truly understand the vast scope of the problem that hunger represents, and that it will not only take supporting emergency assistance programs like SNAP and TEFAP, but that it also requires systemic changes that help support and grow the capacity of our local systems of agriculture.
However, one or even a handful of leaders that understand the problem and its possible solutions are not enough. Chairman Lucas impressed upon me that garnering awareness and support for anti-hunger efforts, and subsequently the passing of a just Farm Bill, will take the work of many constituents keeping in frequent contact with their legislators involved throughout all areas of Congress. If your members aren’t called and don’t receive letters or emails about the reality of hunger in the communities that they represent, they simply can’t know the full scope of the problem, and they certainly can’t devise effective solutions on their own. Regardless of the exhaustion we face over the seemingly increasing divisiveness in the political arena, important issues still need to be heard, and hunger is an inexcusable problem that crosses all party lines. If you’ve never contacted your legislators and would like some information on how to easily navigate the system, please explore the links below. I am also always available to answer any questions related to hunger-related legislation and how we can be effective advocates together!
Contact your Legislator:
Public Policy Manager