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Intro: It’s said that volunteers are at the heart of Northwest Harvest, and so I chose to interview Dave, who has been volunteering at Cherry St. Food Bank for over four years. He works on the ‘front lines’ so to speak, helping to distribute food to the people who come through the bank every week. Although I work as a communications intern, and media and marketing is definitely an extremely important aspect to the success and growth of our organization, I felt that it might be equally important to interview a volunteer whom I’ve worked alongside of face to face for many hours on this summer, someone who can offer valuable perspective on an integral part of social justice that is often overlooked, but one that anyone can relate to.
Q: Why do you choose to volunteer at Northwest Harvest?
A: I chose to volunteer at Northwest Harvest because hunger is such a big problem for so many people, and it hurts me to see so many people suffer from a lack of what I take for granted every day. Life is hard enough as it is, and I just hope to see people have to worry about one lesser thing in their lives everyday I come work here. I respect this organization so much, because they do such a good job of feeding so many people everyday. It’s such a big operation yet they keep their mission so simple – just give people the food they need so they can have a little more peace of mind. That’s it. I respect that, and that’s why I volunteer here.
Q: Why are you interested specifically in hunger/food justice?
A: I’m interested in food justice because I work in downtown Seattle, and everyday I see so many people out on the streets, and when they’re asking for change, I know that they need food. I know they’re hungry. It’s true, that maybe some of them want to get drugs or beer or other things, but I know that when you’re homeless and begging for change on the side of the street, you also need food, because food costs money. I can’t judge them for anything else, I can only help them with the hunger they must face daily. If they’re hoping to get off the streets, they need any help they can get, and I think as an individual, as an organization, as a country we have the means to give it to them. From an individual standpoint, as a volunteer, it doesn’t even take that much.
Q: What do you think your role is as a volunteer in food and social justice?
A: As a volunteer, I guess my role is less defined than say a staff or someone like you doing a specific job to advance the organization. I guess I just do whatever little I can to help out. I know that as one person I’m not doing anything by myself to change the world, but I think as a part of Northwest Harvest or a larger group of individuals who want to contribute to hunger relief, I know I’m making a small difference, and that’s enough for me. I think the role of a volunteer is to just be available and willing to contribute in whatever way possible, and to always have a positive and cheerful attitude about it. Always be willing to learn and grow in compassion towards people and towards a cause. Because it’s not just about the actual work you do on the line or whatever, but it’s also about what you can share with others too. I think we’re all much more connected than we realize, and everything we do or say may be affecting others around us in ways seen and unseen. Even the littlest of us can inspire the biggest of us, and no matter how small we feel we are, we have to live as if everything matters in some way or another. With how you act, you can invite others to become another small but significant part of the larger whole as well.
Q: What have you learned during your time as a volunteer here?
A: I think I’ve learned that everyone can contribute in a very significant manner to whatever specific things they care about, whether it’s hunger or anything else. As a volunteer, you definitely can shape your own experience here, and one of the most satisfying things about volunteering for me is seeing people’s attitudes toward me change over time. Seeing the same people come here every week, and seeing their reactions to you slowly change from a quick glancing avoidance to an optimistic smile here and there. People become friendlier before my very eyes, and it’s so encouraging to see them just a little bit happier leaving as they were coming in, even if it is for just a brief moment. It’s definitely frustrating too, at times, when you feel so small and the problem feels so big, and you see the lines so long and people just taking all they can get, but I think I’ve learned that hope can be so much stronger than any sense of frustration – a smile is what drives me because I know that people will always be hungry, but also that people will always be there to try and make things better. And who knows? Maybe one day, hunger will be a word used just to describe the hours between lunch and dinner, and nothing else.