I’ve written before about my admiration for Second Harvest, our food bank here in Central Florida. The Food for Thought tour I took there was one of those life-changing moments that made me realize just how deep and serious the hunger problem is here in our community (like so many communities across the country), particularly for children.
If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time, you know that my daughter lives a pretty charmed life. As an only child with two working parents, she’s able to do many, many things and thankfully, worrying about where our next meal is coming from isn’t something she’s ever had to worry about — and I pray it’s a pain she’ll never know.
I try to instill in her an appreciation for how blessed she is. But there are only so many times you can tell a 5-year-old how lucky she is. And if I catch myself saying one more time, “Do you know how many kids would LOVE the opportunity to eat this meal you refuse to touch?” I might want to tune me out, too.
Rather than tell her, I figured it was time to show her. I’m not sure how I first heard about it, but I think it was my friend Jessica of The Unemployed Mom who posted on Facebook about Second Harvest’s Family Volunteering Night. It’s open to children between the ages of 5 and 9, and is a great introduction to not only the food bank, but also the idea of making a difference in their community. I immediately signed us up when I heard about it.
After months of pumping E. up about the event, the big night finally arrived last week. As an added bonus, it was a great opportunity for me to finally check out Second Harvest’s GORGEOUS new facility on Mercy Drive.
How cool are the Disney paintings? They told us Imagineers came in and did all the drawings. Yeah, those aren’t knockoffs. Those are the real deal.
We actually gathered in the Disney volunteer break room to get the evening started.
They showed us a short video, geared toward kids, that explained how families just like ours can suddenly find themselves hungry and how Second Harvest helps. I wasn’t sure how much of it E. took in because there was no narrator track — the story was told through drawings and text. But I was surprised by how much she and her friend, K., whose family also joined us for the event, understood what was going on. Kids are smart.
Then, we were given our assignment for the night — labeling unlabeled cans of corn. I’d say there were about 25 or 30 of us there for the evening. Most of us were sent out to the warehouse to tape labels to the cans of corn. Our two families ended up splitting up, though, because both my friend and I missed the part of the email that said you must wear closed-toe shoes in order to go into the warehouse. Both she and her daughter were wearing flip flops, and E. didn’t want to split up from her friend. So the three of them, along with a couple other people, stayed in the room to cut all the labels for us.
To be honest, I think it worked out better. The girls had a BLAST using “big kid” scissors and they were able to enjoy the A/C while the rest of us were in the un-air conditioned warehouse.
Me? I had a tape gun to battle.
And battle it, I did. Our little group labeled a lot of cans of corn. A lot.
When we were done, our coordinator told us we’d labeled about 5,000 cans! Way to go, volunteers!
These are the types of food donations that Second Harvest gets all the time. Can you imagine that once upon a time, all those cans would have been chucked just because the label machine malfunctioned? Once the cans are labeled, Second Harvest then distributes them to food banks, soup kitchens, Boys and Girls Clubs, shelters, schools and many other places in the seven-county area it serves.
Pretty cool, huh?
I kept checking in on my label cutters to see how they were doing. They were loving it.
In fact they were such efficient cutters, that they’d cut up all their labels by a little after 7 (the event ran from 6-8). Since they were done, E. came out into the warehouse with me for a bit to help me finish up.
When we were done, they gave us a tour of the rest of the new warehouse, including the coolers. Sixty degrees suddenly felt freezing!
This was one of the great new features at this facility. Publix donated the money to build a chilled loading dock, big enough for three trucks to unload at the same time. Now, the food (and the volunteers!) isn’t melting in our hot Florida sun.
Then, we got to step into the freezer, where it looked like it was snowing because it was so cold. The kids LOVED it. And if you ever visited Second Harvest’s old location and saw how small its old freezers and coolers were, well, check this out.
On our Food for Thought tour at the old location, they told us they were in the painful position of having to turn donations away due to a lack of storage space. For now, at least, that’s not a problem! How wonderful.
Second Harvest hosts these Family Volunteering Nights every other month. The next one will be in late September. There are countless other ways to get involved, too, from food drives to giving your time or money to spreading the word through social media about the amazing work the organization does. Just click here to get started and find a way that fits your family. If you don’t see something right away, drop them an email. I’ve now worked with several people at Second Harvest and all of them are so excited by any help you can offer and will come up with personalized ways to make it work for you.
Listen, I’m not going to get up any higher on my soap box. This is one small first baby step but one that I hope is followed by future steps. I get it. I’m busy. Life gets in the way. By the time you make it through another week of work, school, cleaning, dinners, activities, homework and so much more, who has time to add another to-do on the list? Plus, thinking of starving children is, well, depressing.
But I should and need to do more to give back. We all do.
It’s such important work. Giving up two small hours of our month will do a lot of good not only for families in our community but for OUR family. It’s selfish to look at it that way, but I immediately saw it clicking for E. I want her to be kind, thoughtful and loving, and what better way to teach that lesson than to help those who need our help the most?
Can’t we all give up a couple hours every once and awhile?
I urge you to check out Second Harvest if you’re in Central Florida, or find some way to volunteer in your community. Trust me — you’re going to get more out of it than you imagined.
What are some organizations you’ve volunteered for? Any other ideas for getting kids involved in giving back?