By Victoria Sia,
University of Virginia student and Madison House volunteer
As 2:30 pm drew near on a Wednesday afternoon, I was nervous yet excited for my first volunteer at Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. I had never actually volunteered at a food bank before, but my summer swim team always volunteered together for an organization with a similar mission as food banks called Stop Hunger Now. I was curious to learn what our task for the day would be and how it would compare to what I’ve done in the past for an organization with a similar goal. Our driver, Grace, was very friendly, and it was also her first shift at the food bank so it was a new experience for all of us. Once we walked through the doors of the large blue warehouse, we were immediately greeted by three enthusiastic and welcoming individuals who helped us get started. We had the opportunity to work alongside two older men who were very knowledgeable about the tasks at the food bank. Our task that day was to sort through a bin full of donations that mainly contained various kinds of pasta, canned beans, and evaporated milk. I was surprised by the variety of foods at the food bank because when I volunteered at Stop Hunger Now over the summer with my swim team, they didn’t have nearly as much as BRAFB has. In addition, the food bank was very organized and we were all able to quickly learn which bins different food groups belonged to by the middle of our shift. The hour at Blue Ridge flew by and I felt like there was still so much more food that needed to be sorted. The amount of food donations that BRAFB receives is incredible and hardly any of the donations seemed to fall into the category of junk food, which was surprising because I had envisioned food banks as not having many options in general; however, as we have mentioned in class, not all food banks around the world may be as fortunate as the food banks in Charlottesville. This fact made me debate numerous questions that we’ve touched in class such as whether or not a better and/or permanent solutions exists for food insecurity, how many families can a single food bank support on average, and how many hours in a week go towards sorting donations.
In comparison to my first shift, my second shift at BRAFB was different. Grace picked us up at Madison House again but when we walked through the doors of the large blue warehouse, we were greeted by a different man, Joe, who informed us that we would be going through all the food items on the shelves this time in order to determine whether or not they were expired. In addition, many of the bins that were open last time were closed this time and ready to be transported/given away. Although, we were also able to work with one of the individuals that had helped us sort last time and he helped us out by printing out another copy of the list of how long different foods were good for. I found out that baby foods expire on the expiration date whereas items like vinegar, ketchup, tuna, and mustard are still good two to three years after their expiration date. As I reflected on this shift on our drive home, I realized that many things in my house don’t go past the expiration date but if we did have food items that reached the expiration date, we threw them away immediately even though there might be a chance that they’re still good for a couple more years.
I haven’t experienced a “powerful moment” yet but I feel like one of those moments will happen as I learn more about the individuals who work at the food bank daily as well as how the food bank operates. Although we don’t get to directly interact with people who are food insecure, a powerful aspect of volunteering at BRAFB is the behind the scenes contribution we’re doing in order to reduce food insecurity in the Charlottesville community. By volunteering at BRAFB, it allows me to connect the readings and discussions that we’ve had/done in class to the real world. I believe that this enhances my learning overall and I look forward to going to BRAFB. We always touch on the topic of food banks in class but now that I am actually volunteering at a local food bank, I can find out how they function, where the food comes from, how many families a food bank can support, and how many people are needed in order to ensure that a food bank is operating properly, which are all things that I look forward to learning more about throughout the semester.