Since I could remember, I have always had a soft compassionate heart for others. I rooted for the underdog, I sat with the new kid at lunch, I defended those being bullied, and I even kicked a little butt as a kid on the playground when needed (I do not condone violence but that is a discussion for another time). I was generous to those in need, and always made sure no one was being wronged. My mom had shown me, on many different occasions, how to give to others and I remember collecting money, jackets, food, etc. and donating things often. She even took me to a march on Washington once; I supposed thats where I get my activist heart from.
Last year I began a partnership with an organic food company called Plum Organics. We have been closely working together to find ways in which we can help local communities together. Did you know that 16 million children are food insecure? That is 1 in 5 children. Plum is a Public Benefit Company which means they are both committed to not only profit but purpose. They believe business can exist to make more than just money; they can help to lift society. The Full Effect program aims to nourish little ones in need by donating the same high quality organic products sold to customers who might not otherwise have access to it. This was all I needed to hear in order to begin our partnership.
For the past few weeks I have been seeking out and organizing a volunteer day where I planned to get 8 friends from the community to come along and volunteer for a day. I found the Mary Brennan INN and Soup Kitchen, which was only about 15 minutes from my house. I had been unknowingly driving passed it probably all of my life. The plan was to send some product over from Plum Organics, and spend the day volunteering and learning all aspects of the operation. I was taken a back to see an entire shipping palate filled with Plum Organics products. A ton of pouches were also sent but those were taken to the women and children's center the day before our volunteer day. The coordinator told me those were extremely well received and that early childhood/first foods are always needed there at the shelter.
My first task was to take crates of donated food that my friends had already sorted through to remove dented and expired cans and organize it in the pantry. We then began digging through bags and boxes of donated items to look for food that was likely thrown in there along with clothing. If you hadn't known what time of year it was, you could probably figure it out by looking on the shelves of the pantry; there was more boxes of turkey stove top stuffing and gravy than we had room for. The cranberry sauce shelf, along with the corn and green been shelves were overflowing. At one point I feared for a collapse. As we were bringing up coats, sorting through food, and cleaning up the donation area a bit, some of the guests started coming in to the dining room. Actually, many were already waiting outside when we walked in looking for a safe warm place to sit down and have a cup of coffee.
We took our break and had a team meeting right before we served the food. As we ate our sandwiches we were reminded of how to serve the guests and how to walk around the dining room. When we went out into the dining room; I was taken a back for a second. Every single seat was filled. While everyone was serving food, I took around my cart filled with Plum products and handed out Mighty Meal Time apple cinnamon oatmeal, and Mighty Meal Time cheesy sweet potato mac and cheese. They boxes were flying off of my cart faster than I could have anticipated. One guest told me she couldn't remember the last time she had tasted oatmeal. We kept bringing the cart back and loading it up. It felt good to know that these people had good meals to take with them wherever they were going. My favorite was when the little kids would come running over to me with smiles and their hands in the air, many of them didn't speak english but we didn't need to verbally communicate to connect.
Once we were done feeding the guests and handing out Plum products, we went next door to help the guest shop. A little boutique was set up in the basement of the CTC (this is where the guests can get email addresses, help with job searches etc.) where guests are allowed to come twice a month, depending on their card color, and pick out a set number of essentials. Each item of clothing was previously picked through to make sure that everything that is put out is something that you and I would wear. The store actually looked like a little boutique; in between each wave of people, we would replenish everything and neaten everything back up. At one point, I had to walk out of the store after an encounter with a little girl. She spoke Spanish, and kept vigorously repeating a sentence I couldn't understand. I did however keep hearing the word "Frozen." I could see that she was nervous that someone else would get it before her, things were first come first serve in the boutique and her concern was real. I figured out what she wanted and reached over a few of the guests and got it for her. It was a little Frozen inspired puzzle that had a $1 printed on the cover. I looked at her face and immediately needed a moment to myself. I welled up with tears, guilt, anger, sadness, happiness, and just about every other emotion one could feel. I am still processing my feelings in regard to that experience but I do know that is something I will carry with me forever for many different reasons. People were in need of very specific items, I felt terrible when the guests were in need of something that I was unable to find for them. Shoes; it was usually shoes that guests were in need of.
I met a wonderful man in the shop who was looking for very specific clothing items. Each time I would show him something he would take his time explaining to me why he didn't like what I was showing him. He said to me "I may be homeless but I still have my dignity." I didn't even know what to say. I usually connect with people through empathy. I am able to respond and connect with others through my own experiences but I couldn't this time. I have never been homeless or food insecure. I so badly wanted to say the right thing or a good thing or anything. But for the first time in a long time, I didn't know what to say so I just dug even harder through all of the clothes trying to find him something he would like. A friend of mine who came with us had found a snazzy wallet, he snatched that up as one of his accessories and was so proud to have it. I also found him a couple of flannel shirts that had exactly two pockets on the chest, just the way he liked his shirts. I learned in that moment that I don't always have to have the right words or a good response, I simply need to be present and listen.
I am still processing my experience and plotting on how to move forward. This will be the first of many experiences that I have with the INN. I plan to go forward and do more and will be requesting your help as I do so. I do however know that a few things are needed immediately. Below is a list of things I will be collecting to bring over there in the coming days and weeks. If you are able, please drop on my porch, or message me for details on pick up or shipping.
Clothing items needed:
Anything with a star next to it means they are seriously in need of those items
****UNDERWEAR THE MOST IN NEED ITEM: KIDS WOMEN MEN****
Food Items needed immediately
***Granola Bars, fig bars, protein bars
Canned or Jarred pasta sauces
*Mens Gloves Hats Scarves
Mens Fleece Tops
*Mens Boots, sneakers, winter boots
Mens Warm Socks
ANY AND ALL MENS ITEMS
Womens fleece tops
*Womens warm sweaters
Womens Gloves Hats Scarves
*Womens PLUS SIZE CLOTHING
*Womens PLUS SIZE JACKETS
*Womens BRAS AND UNDERWEAR
*Womens SHOES BOOTS SNEAKERS
**Kids SHOES ALL SIZES
Kids winter clothing: sweaters, lined pants, sweat clothes
Kids winter coats, snow gear
Kids Gloves, Hats, Scarves.
Misc: Blankets, sheets, body sprays, toys, bottles, sippy cups, STROLLERS
Most of the guests walk everywhere and have to carry their young children. Many came in asking for strollers****