Spaghetti noodles, canned tomatoes, a jar of peanut butter — No, this isn’t my grocery list. These everyday food items that we often toss in our shopping carts without much of a thought made a real impression on me this week.
I was with a group visiting Manna Food Pantries, a non-profit organization that provides much needed food to hungry individuals and families living in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties in Florida. The outreach director for Manna spoke to us, explaining how bags of food are provided to eligible recipients, many of them seniors and many living in poverty. The items I mentioned above, plus some oatmeal and canned fruit and veggies, are what a typical bag of food might include — a bag of food that the recipients may have to stretch to feed their families for a week or more. She explained that the people who pack the bags — many of them volunteers — carefully select the items they place in each bag so that the recipients can actually make meals out of compatible ingredients (spaghetti with tomatoes, for example).
The night before, I’d eaten a delicious dinner with my family and later spent time online registering for StitchFix, a service that selects clothing items for you and ships them to you for you to try on, and either keep or return. The stylists who choose the clothing and accessories aim to select items for your shipment that will complement each other, or go with other basic staples you may already own. I’m still waiting for my first “fix” to arrive. I don’t know whether or how long I will continue the service, but I couldn’t help but see the parallel (and the huge divide) between the bag of food being prepared for someone in great need and the luxury of a box of clothes being sent to me. In that moment, I was truly humbled by just how much I have to be grateful for.
I also felt convicted to expose my children to Manna and the needs in our community. Right now they are too young to volunteer at Manna – I asked. Children ages 10 and up can join adults who volunteer on Saturday mornings, sorting food and assisting in the warehouse and gardens.
I certainly understand this rule, as our three active children make a bull in a china shop seem tame. (I can just imagine cans of green beans being flung around the warehouse or dropped on toes. It isn’t a pretty picture.) But we can collect food and monetary donations for Manna and deliver them to the food pantry. Our daughters’ Girl Scout Brownie troop often looks for activities like this. We are also fortunate to have service opportunities for all ages through our church.
For all the vacationing and fun we find along the Gulf Coast, it’s important to me that we don’t turn a blind eye to the problems that exist. I want my family to contribute to a stronger community.
How do you teach your children about community service? Have you found organizations that offer opportunities for younger children to volunteer? Please leave a comment to reply.