I’m Sam Groskind, a Law and Society major at American University. This semester I’ve been volunteering at Bread for the City as part of the CSLP program for my Intro to Public Health course. Bread for the City is a nonprofit that provides a multitude of services to Washington DC’s most vulnerable residents. Their motto is “Dignity, Respect, and Service,” and they accomplish this through medical, legal, and social services, and by distributing food and clothing. I have been volunteering in the food pantry, which has given my the opportunity to witness the hunger and poverty that persists in our nation’s capital. Many Americans don’t see poverty in their daily lives, which leaves them unaware of the fact that millions of people in this country are food-insecure, meaning that they don’t know where their next meal will come from. The same is true for many students at American University. Many of us are affluent and have come here from all over the country, yet few of us get the chance to interact with and serve the
I’ve volunteered at food banks on and off my whole life, so I felt prepared for the work itself. However, I was a little apprehensive at how I’d be received by the staff and clients in the food bank, but those fears were entirely unfounded. It’s hard work, but it’s a lot of fun and we have a good time. The most important thing for me is to treat the clients with dignity, because the truth is, it’s not easy to ask for help when you need it most. I learn the most from my conversations with the food pantry staff and in my quick interactions with clients, and I’m able to tie some of it into what I’ve been learning in Public Health.
It’s been interesting to observe what kinds of food the clients choose. Some are only familiar with processed foods, and they’ll ask for white rice or spaghetti, white bread and crackers, and they don’t want certain vegetables because they don’t like them or aren’t sure how to use them. Others look forward to coming to the food pantry because it might be the only time during the week that they are able to access healthier options such as whole wheat bread, vegetables, and lean meat. Bread for the City partners with local farmers markets and farms to collect unsold produce that would otherwise go to waste, and they encourage clients to choose the healthier options when possible.
All in all, this has been an incredible experience and I encourage everyone who can to find a nonprofit in DC and volunteer. I realized that Tuesdays have become my favorite day this semester because that’s when I volunteer. It’s a fairly long commute and the work is exhausting, but there’s no substitute for the gratification that comes from giving your time and effort to those who need it the most.