Today I had the privilege of getting my hands dirty and working up a sweat as a volunteer at the Dave Pearlman Food Pantry at Jewish Family Services of Greater Orlando (JFS).
To take nothing away from the fine work of the more than 600 partner feeding programs to whom our Food Bank distributes food each year in Central Florida, I have always been enormously impressed with the work of JFS. Led by a true humanitarian, Barry Kudlowitz, this caring group of staff and volunteers provide a place where people in crisis can get some relief.
And not just food relief. JFS provides a wide range of services designed to help people ‘cover their bases’ on a number of important fronts. This kind of help is very often all a person needs to get back on his/her feet and move forward in life.
I arrived not really knowing what to expect, but quickly learned the ropes from a true veteran of JFS; a 21-year old young man named Eton (say “Ay-tahn”). Eton has been volunteering since he was 12—that’s not a typo. He was very knowledgeable, and explained the mixture of foods I would be packing into brown paper grocery bags. The system was very well-thought out and organized. Together we prepared a dozen or so bags of food, and Eton’s shift came to a close. He bid me farewell, and left me to fend for myself.
After only a few minutes, the first intercom buzzer went off and a voice on the wall said “I need two sets plus government.” That meant two sets of the normal “two bag” portion for families, plus some of the USDA government commodity food they had on hand. Each bag also contained some frozen protein (chicken or beef) and frozen bakery products. I quickly hustled these items to the lobby in a shopping cart, where a young couple with a baby were waiting. With many thanks from them, I helped carry their bags to the car.
As I returned to the pantry room, I reflected how bare the shelves of the small room seemed. JFS’s van driver, Jerry, picks up a vanload of food once a week (on Thursdays) from Second Harvest Food Bank to restock the shelves. Around noon, the weekly bounty arrived. I helped Jerry unpack approximately 3,000 pounds of canned vegetables, fruits, soups, stews, pastas, frozen meat and fish, noodles, cereal.
While he worked to re-stock, I was called upon several more times for bags to the lobby. I was struck by how “normal” and everyday folks the people who received the food were. And also by how grateful they were to receive the help.
I went back to packing more bags. Remembering what Eton had taught me about packing each bag earlier in the day, I found myself almost desperate in my temptation to break the rules and add a few more cans, a few more boxes, a little more meat to each of the bags I was packing. In my head I knew that doing so would deplete the pantry more quickly than they could replenish it, but my heart wanted to do it just the same. I decided to respect the rules so that the food could last. (Note to self: This community needs LOTS MORE donated food!)
I walked away appropriately tired, and greatly moved. I was grateful to experience a small part of the incredible work that happens at JFS on a daily basis. My sincere thanks to Barry Kudlowitz, Adrienne Cooperman, Marni Chepenik, Es Cohen, Karen Broussard, Jerry the driver, Eton, and all the JFS staff for their caring work and for making me feel valuable today.
Keep up the good work, guys!
VP of Development