Volunteers in Action
With more than 7,150 pantries registered on AmpleHarvest.org, we know there are a lot of dedicated men and women who donate their time to assist in the daily operations of food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and other non-profit agencies, across the United States. For this blog post, we are highlighting Rebecca Taylor, a recent college graduate from King’s College, PA, who is in the midst of a yearlong service commitment at Andre House – a homeless shelter in Phoenix, Arizona. Andre House is registered on AmpleHarvest.org and we thought it would be great to hear from a volunteer who is working on the front lines each day to help those in need. (If you would like to recommend a volunteer or someone we should spotlight for our next Volunteers in Action blog post, please email me at: [email protected]) Below are some questions we asked Becca about her experience at Andre House.
Andre House is registered on AmpleHarvest.org – can you tell us about Andre House, who/how many people you serve and the services provided by Andre House in the Phoenix area?
Andre House is a house of hospitality for the poor and homeless in central Phoenix. As a house of hospitality, we have an open door policy in which we provide people with the basic needs one would have in a home. Our hospitality services include the clothing closet, laundry, showers, office, lockers, boot vouchers, and the soup line.
To be a little more descriptive, we see around 150 people through the clothes closet each week, in which we provide clothing for the guests, at their own will, free of charge. We provide showers and toiletries to our guests 5 days a week. In the office, we hand out basic first-aid, toiletries, vitamins, etc. Guests can also make phones calls and send out mail. Our most known service is the soup line. Andre House serves dinner 6 nights a week, serving approximately 550-650 meals each night.
How did you find out about Andre House? What guided your decision to volunteer for a year at Andre House?
I found Andre House through the service learning department, The Shoval Center for Community Engagement and Learning, at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA. I came to Andre House last January on a WinterSERVE trip, a week-long alternative break trip which emerges students in social justice, service, community, and culture.
A major factor in my decision to come to Andre house was the community. I was graduating college and was trying to figure out what was next for me. I was looking to apply all that I had learned in school and to go out and find a place for myself where I could work towards the common good, which means first finding a loving, intentional community. I found that at Andre House.
Before you even get your hands dirty, just talking to the dedicated volunteers who have helped out Andre House for so many years makes you fall in love with the place. Another bid to community is going back after dinner and sitting around a table together, eating the meal we served.
Another part is being so connected to humanity. You no longer see someone as “homeless” and with all the barriers and generalizations that entails, but rather you see someone as the person they are, a person that needs some help.
Let’s talk nutrition – do you get a lot of fresh produce donations? How have you witnessed the impacts of nutrition (or lack of nutrition) with the folks you assist? Do you think access to fresh produce makes a difference to those who rely on food assistance?
Nutrition! This is a big deal to me. I will start by explaining the meal set up at Andre House. Most of our produce and dairy comes from St. Mary’s Food Bank. Monday-Friday, first thing we do in the morning is go to the food bank and pick-up anywhere from 500-1,000+ pounds of produce, dairy and bread. The food bank is hit or miss. I would say usually it is good, occasionally exceptional, meaning there are some really nice surprises, such vegetables and fruit that have not already started to turn and occasionally there are some organic choices. Not having to dig through slimy lettuce, especially enough containers to get enough for 500+ meals, is always a treat.
I would say there is a good variety, for the most part, but it is more about salvaging what is there. We have a salad and desert, which is usually fruit or yogurt. We do find some organic produce, organic eggs and milks which is always nice. That said, I am so thankful for Saint Mary’s. I also like that we are using food that would otherwise go to waste.
A lot of the donations we see are usually get are dry goods, canned food, and a LOT of deserts. We do get some healthier grains, and organic products, but I would say a majority seems to be canned foods, and quick and easy carbs. As I sort through our food to give to other organizations for food boxes, it seems to be all food I would never eat. A lot of Ramen noodles and instant noodle meals and other processed foods that I would never put in my body, and I wish it weren’t that way. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for donations! I think we could do a better job at educating people about donating food. I know when we would have can drives at school when I was younger, I would usually root through the cupboards and grab soup that didn’t appeal to me, not much thought other than that, but now that I am on the other end of that operation, I find myself getting a little frustrated at what we are giving to families that need food assistance.
Managing my diet has been of my biggest struggles while I have been here. When you are eating what’s available, you realize what’s available is not very healthy, at least by my standards, especially for the poor and homeless. The challenge is finding food high in calories that is healthy, and non-perishable. I think our meals at Andre House are exceptional. We always have a fruit and vegetable, and we prepare all of our food ourselves, but we only are able to serve dinner.
Is there a fresh fruit or vegetable item that is most requested or needed for your food pantry?
I would say squash and tomato and peppers are staples at Andre House. We makes sure we always have potatoes, onions, carrots and celery. I would always welcome more fresh produce. When we get enough, usually 50-100+ pounds depending on what it is, we can serve a vegetable side dish which is always nice.
What would you say are the most common misconceptions about people who find themselves in a situation where they need food assistance?
One misconception I hear time after time would be that people remain in poverty in order to receive free government assistance. Another gripe I hear is that people receiving food assistance should only be able to buy certain foods, mainly generic brands. Why can’t they buy organic? There are a lot of reasons people are on food assistance and this is my opinion, but regardless the circumstance, no one wants to have to rely on someone else for food.
What would you like to say to gardeners who have an abundance in their garden but aren’t sure if their donations would make a difference?
Having the ability to have a garden and grow your own food is a gift, but it is an even greater gift when you can share your bounty with others. Too me, it is just like cooking. I always enjoy cooking for people more than myself and I think the same about providing the others with nourishment, especially too those in need. No matter what the size, anything can make a difference. One apple or cucumber, or whatever it may be, is healthy nutrients that will only help someone. Whether it’s one person you can assist or 100, the size doesn’t matter, it’s that one apple that can help someone, and maybe even give them the energy to help others.
We would like to thank everyone who volunteers their time and energy at local food pantries in communities across the United States. If you’d like to volunteer your time by assisting AmpleHarvest.org and our mission to connect gardeners who have excess produce to share with local food pantries, please following this link to find out how: www.AmpleHarvest.org/local
And finally, we often talk about food pantries on AmpleHarvest.org, but any agency that falls under these three categories can register on our site so gardeners with excess produce can connect with them.
- The agency is a non-profit
- The agency distributes food for free to those in need in their community
- The agency is located in the United States