I chose my first compassion poster off volunteering with the Panther Pantry. I got special approval to interview my friend Nic who I know worked with the food pantry at my previous university. I know Nic’s heart and the effort he puts in all his work so I knew he would be a good person to interview. Below is our conversation.
Q1. I know you were involved in a lot of things on campus at UNA, what all were you involved with, and why was the food bank one of them? What made you want to get involved, or why did it stand out more than other options? A: During my time at UNA, I was involved in a plethora of organizations such as: Student Government Association, Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity, SOAR Counselor, LaGrange Society, among countless others. However, during my time spent with Alternative Student Breaks during my freshman to fifth year of undergrad, that organization and their reach to students had always stood out and stuck with me throughout my undergraduate collegiate career. My involvement with the Feeding the Pride Food Pantry was not immediate option of involvement for me, it more or so was bestowed upon me when I was a student worker and intern for the Student Engagement Center, specifically with Bethany Green, Coordinator for Leadership and Volunteerism. I had always had a heart for service but until I traveled to Haiti with the Alternative Student Break group, I had never really understood the immediate need for service at UNA and in the Florence, AL community. Coming back from Haiti meant that I wanted to make an immediate difference on my campus, and I knew assisting Bethany with her day-to-day operations was the perfect opportunity. The Feeding the Pride Food Pantry just so happened to fall into my lap!
Q2. What was your role in the food bank? What services and support are offered by the food bank? How do you think these offerings affect students in need besides the receiving of products and goods by the organization? A. My specific role in the Feeding the Pride Food Pantry did not call for a specific title, however, I oversaw maintaining quantities of food and toiletry items in the Food Pantry. Even more, I did the grocery shopping for the Food Pantry about every three weeks and coordinating distributing the new items into the pantry. For the most part, the services that are offered are just for students, not matter the need is able to visit the Feeding the Pride Food Pantry if they have their student ID. As an alumnus now of UNA, I was one of those students who need the food pantry, coming from a single parent household, my mother did not have tons of extra money to send me to go grocery shopping. While I worked every year in college, ultimately 3 jobs, I knew that other students were in the same boat as me and needed this relief just as much as me! Besides what the Feeding the Pride Food Pantry already offers, we took constant feedback from students attending the food pantry.
Q3. I know that food banks are pretty common in companies and especially communities, did the food bank on campus ever work with or get advise or help from any of the food banks in Florence/Tuscumbia? Or the other way around, did the UNA food bank ever help them out? Do you personally see an importance in the food banks in the Florence area to be working together, in what ways could these organizations grow and improve individually by being in more communication? A. To my knowledge, I was never aware of donations from other community food banks, however, we had very generous alumni, campus partners, and community members who donated food, toiletries, and money to the food pantry quite often. Outside of keeping the food pantry up to date we also helped in the Florence, AL community with an organization called Room in the Inn. Basically, this organization takes one day out of the week to provide meals to the homeless in the Shoals community, students, faculty, staff, and administration would volunteer to prepare the food, even sometimes purchase the food for the event, and serve the food to homeless community members! For the most part, everyone who is involved in the food insecurity and homeless crisis in the Shoals community are all friends and always collaborate with one another. That is and will always be an open line of communication with all involved in the continuous efforts, so yes, I do see a need and it is there.
Q4. Why do you think it is important to volunteer with your school, and do you have any tips for other students on how to choose the right organization to work with? A lot of students feel overwhelmed already with the basic load of classes, studying and a job outside school, what are some ways they can help without taking on a more persistent/permanent role with an organization like the food bank? A. Personally, I believe that volunteering in school is a great opportunity for self-exploration, however, I believe that volunteering is not for everyone, especially if you are not in tune with you privileges and how they situate in a room. For students seeking volunteer opportunities, look no further than your volunteer office or student involvement office, they should hopefully have a listing of all the organizations on campus that house volunteer opportunities. Even more, it is not hard to Google service opportunities in your school’s community. I look at volunteering as a way of self-care, this gives me to the opportunity to clear my mind and do something great for others. Taking a step back from constant schoolwork can relive anyone of added stress. In addition, I think it is important to understand that time management is key, so while you may enjoy service, understand that you must find the balance. For the most part, every volunteer opportunity I have been a part of, even the food pantry was a sign up for times that you are available to volunteer. Give as much or as little time as you have, anything helps!
Q5. What are some of the challenges that working with the food bank might bring to a student volunteer life? (Other than maybe a heavier load or more a little more stress) What are some of the rewards and benefits that a student can acquire? (Besides a resume builder, thinking deeper, more personal) A. From your examples provide, I do not believe there is a much more besides students being able to take a worldwide view of the needs in our world. There is a constant need for help and introducing yourself to these opportunities will give you the courage to help in your hometown community or the community you decide to reside in after graduation.
Q6. You are now located at Auburn University; do you ever work with their food bank on campus? What are some ways graduate students or alumni can still be involved with a food bank? A. War Eagle to that! At Auburn, since I have an increased workload on top of pursuing my master’s degree, I do not work with the Campus Food Pantry. However, I am on the Nutrition Resource Center Task Force for the university. This appointment gives me the opportunity to bring forth my undergraduate experiences and the need of students with food insecurities. Even more, I can provide ideas for the new space that will be built soon. The Auburn-Opelika is a great place to get involved with service, once again just looking around campus and seeking out opportunities – there is always areas that will take servant-hearted volunteers! I will also add that I serve as an Alternative Student Breaks Trip Advisor here at Auburn University, so I still am able to volunteer in Auburn, Opelika, and around our country with students. It is kind of cool to see what I was like during my time as an undergraduate student in Alternative Breaks 😊