Jeta Luboteni, We Are Family

My name is Jeta Luboteni and I am a senior majoring in International Relations and minoring in Sociology. The class that I am connecting my volunteering to is SOCY-553: Intersectionality. I am volunteering with We Are Family, which delivers groceries to low income seniors in Columbia Heights and all over DC. This organization has only 2 full time staff, Co-Directors Mark Andersen and Tulin Ozdeger, so it relies on volunteers to deliver the food via car or foot to the seniors that need it. Every month, volunteers meet in the Kelsey Apartments in Columbia Heights and assemble in groups to go around the city and take grocery bags or boxes to the homes of seniors.

Before starting this project, I had volunteered with this site before. I particularly liked it because of its commitment to doing its part to alleviate the effects of gentrification. It is also very nice to interact with longtime DC residents and hear their stories. Along with delivering groceries, the organization does advocacy work for the residents, depending on their situations. In the class with which I am connecting my service, we study how oppressions intersect and multiply. One way We Are Family (WAF) addresses this is by being committed to fighting all forms of oppression and their unique manifestations. For example, Racism, Classism, Sexism, Ageism, etc. They serve residents of all sorts of ethnic backgrounds and have volunteers who speak Spanish to make services more accessible to the Spanish-speaking residents.

Another way WAF addresses intersectionality is by emphasizing the history of the residents and the city. Every time the volunteers assemble to unload the truck, Mark explains why the volunteers are important and why the seniors are in this situation. He explains the historical factors contributing to the situation, as well as what the seniors have been through in that area (the riots after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the drug war, etc.) He explains that the economic situation is not the fault of the seniors, and it is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something that needs to be addressed, and everyone should try to do what they can. It was not necessarily a surprise, but it is nevertheless important to note that many of the seniors are former government workers or had good jobs. But the price of living in that area is just unattainable, so they require assistance.

Besides volunteering, there is more that we can do. We can be mindful of where we choose to live, so that we do not contribute to kicking people out of their homes. We can contact and pressure local governments to limit policies that gentrify. And we can talk to our friends and make sure that they know what is going on in the District, and in cities all over the United States. No one deserves to lose their home simply because they retired. We Are Family also stresses the importance of community, so volunteering there is an important way of showing that. Living in Washington, D.C. should be a chance to show solidarity with the residents, especially those who have been living here for so long and are now at risk of losing their homes due to wealthy millennials seeing their properties as desirable.

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