I had an eye opening experience last Thursday when I decided to volunteer for Food Bank For New York City and spending almost half of my day putting the need of others before mine, witnessing first hand the challenges of those who are not as fortunate as I am, face on a daily basis. I started my day early as I didn’t want to screw up this opportunity and to allow myself a breather before arriving at the soup kitchen. I didn’t know what I was expecting, maybe a small part of me was readily prepared to face a worst case scenario but the scene that greeted me in front of the church was something else altogether. I was instantly humbled and felt ashamed as I was making my way past the crowd in my Alexander McQueen’s Puma kicks and Rayban’s Wayfarer looking like a lost spoilt brat. Before I could make it to the front entrance, I was approached by a few of them with their queries, complaints, concerns, worries in hope that I could somehow remedy their troubles. I was wearing the official FBFNY’s tee while holding a big folder with a clear print of FBFNY logo on the cover which were a pretty obvious indication that I was from the Food Bank. Regardless of my polite and clear brief explanation that I was only a volunteer with a given specific task, they kept wanting to be heard and soon after I realized there was no point for further clarification and so I listened. They just wanted to vent out their frustrations and for someone, anyone to listen to them without cutting or/and brushing them off like a discarded material. I remembered feeling so powerless and useless not knowing what was the right way to respond. Minutes passed and one man came towards us and said gently, “let her be, let her do her job,” I screamed silently and smiled at him, excused myself and went inside the building to prep and settle my things before I could begin my assignment. The program coordinator and some staff members were very kind to me and welcomed my presence, telling me to do whatever is it that I must do. Come look for them if I need help with anything, they say. I went back outside to carry out my task and an hour and a half later after the crowd had lessen and having completed my surveys, I saw a small group of ladies sitting at the nearby stairs beaming at me as though gesturing for me to come join them. I did just that and we started talking about the current state of homeless people and their constant battle with hunger. I mainly just listened as they shared their stories, but at the same time I was figuring out how, what can I do to help with their pressing situation? It is obvious that something needs to be done but how to put the action in motion and to ensure whatever that will be done will follow through? One of the main concerns that I could surmise from all the talk is the issue of respect or shall I say the lack of respect that is being shown towards them. “We are still human beings. We are poor and hungry but we are people,” I don’t know who is at fault in this matter as I didn’t witness any unpleasant exchanges between the staff and their clients. However, these allegations came from a bunch of people with the same collective concerns, so I am certain there is some truth to them. I went back inside to say my thanks and goodbyes to the kitchen staff before packing up my belongings to head off to the Food Bank’s Downtown office for my Time Out for Hunger (TO4H) evening shift. On the way to my destination, I was determined to share what I’ve discovered and I hope that it will be taken into consideration by the people with the right amount of authority. I am aware that it wasn’t part of the job description and I know what my role was in the assignment. But what kind of person would I be if I were to consciously turn a blind eye and go about my daily routine like that Thursday didn’t happen?
I am still struggling with this knowledge because I know for a fact that this whole issue doesn’t just affect the little church that I was assigned to, not just in Manhattan, or NYC, or even the United
States. It is happening in other parts of the world, my home country included. Just being given the reality check made me feel sick as all this while I’ve been drowning in my own pool of ignorance.