When I started working at Tukwila Pantry last October as a United Way of King County HungerCorp member, I had no idea what I was getting into. Never having volunteered at a food bank or even been to Tukwila, I was nervous. I remember my palms sweating as I got my first tour of the place, met my fellow Americorps member and new colleagues in the National Guard, and learned how to use the coffee maker.
Even though the Pantry is small in size, the sheer amount of food was staggering. Supplies were piled up to the ceiling in the dry room and stacked in crates in the walk-in fridge. In the weeks that followed, I witnessed the hard work that went into ensuring that none of that food was wasted. Every volunteer and staff member contributed to a powerful team, churning out box after box of food in preparation to distribute to well over 1000 families a week. The Pantry had risen to the incredible need in unprecedented COVID times, seamlessly adapting operations to create safer processes for clients to receive food.
In a short period of time, I fell into step with this flow and felt valued and challenged in my work. Doing the physical labor to make our services possible was empowering and meaningful. It made me proud to contribute to an organization doing crucial COVID relief work.
Not only did I find purpose in the day-to-day tasks, interacting with people from all different backgrounds–clients, volunteers, coworkers–also expanded my mind. Before coming to the Pantry, I’d had minimal interaction with the military, but I started to find value in learning about my coworkers’ different experiences and viewpoints. Our combined efforts to do anti-hunger work became the catalyst to talk about issues of race, class, and oppression. We even started a book club to dive into these topics outside of work.
These meetings became places for reflection on the experiences and inequalities that the people we serve experience. Many people become food-insecure because of violent systems of oppression that make economic opportunities inaccessible, especially during a pandemic. This knowledge is important when addressing clients with respect, dignity, patience, and understanding. Even though this work can be tiring or frustrating, I always tried to keep perspective as someone who does not have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. I started to learn how to communicate with English Language Learners, often practicing my Spanish, and developed friendly relationships with clients I saw every week.
Seven months later, I am beyond grateful for my time at the Pantry. Even though my HungerCorp term is over, I now get to see a different side of the Pantry as the Office Manager. I continue to learn and grow, develop my skills, and gain understanding of all the hours that go into running a food bank.
A couple days ago I received an email that struck me. I had forgotten that I had written a letter to myself to be delivered at the end of my service term. This piece resonated the most: “Now that you’ve completed your time, I hope you’ve gained confidence and understanding. I hope your eyes have been opened even though your gas bill has been high. What I want most is for you to feel inspired.”
I can say with confidence that I have accomplished these goals and more.