This past Wednesday, the line at The Food Bank for New York City's Community Kitchen in Harlem seemed never-ending. When it hadn't grown any shorter a whole hour into dinner service, it struck us just how busy they were. The Food Bank's Debbie Torres told us that Haier's employee volunteer initiative had come at a particularly busy time, the busiest in fact, it being the end of the month. Of course, the end of the month is when many of us get paid. It's when money comes in and immediately goes out, when bills arrive, rent must be paid, and unexpected expenses seem to arise at the worst possible time.
New York City may be one of the wealthiest cities in the world, but it also has a reputation for being a place where it is notoriously difficult to make ends meet. According to statistics from the Food Bank for New York City, approximately 2.9 million New Yorkers experience difficulty affording food for themselves and their families. Of that number, approximately 1.4 million— mainly women, children, seniors, the working poor and people with disabilities — rely on soup kitchens and food pantries. The line of people pouring in off 116th street was composed of individuals who were very clearly from all walks of life, each with their own story and reason for being there. Of the many families that came in together, one in particular caught my attention: three children and their young father, who gave off a strong and unmistakable air of positivity, despite whatever circumstances had brought them there that evening.
There were eight of us volunteering that day, and we spent the morning prepping everything for that evening's special, Curry Chicken. The thing about the food prepared at the Community Kitchen is that they are real meals, carefully thought out, as nutritionally balanced as the Food Bank's limited resources can manage, and most importantly, lovingly prepared. The spirit of the staff who works at the Food Bank every day makes this very clear to anyone who spends even one morning volunteering with them. They are there because they know it's important. They are there because they see a need that their particular skills can help to fill, and they work incredibly hard to keep this community resource open and afloat.
In volunteering we realize that we each have more to give than we might initially assume. Knowing this, when we're presented with the opportunity to take a few hours out of our day to provide help where it is needed, how can we not? Living in this city it's easy to lose touch with others. Though this sense of disconnection can be most acute in relation to people we perceive to be different from ourselves, it also happens with those we see and interact with every day. Volunteering put us in touch with the larger community, but it also reminded us how seldom we take the time to get to know the people we work with. As the eight of us volunteering with Haier that day chopped vegetables, seasoned vats of corn, and packaged take home meals for families and homebound individuals, we connected with each other as well. It wasn't until dinner service was over and cleanup was in full swing, that it really dawned on us how much we'd actually labored. We all agreed that it had been well worth it.