Guest post by Adrienne Sommer-Locey – I don’t know what I was expecting when my team signed up to bag food for the Vallejo distribution with Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. Times are tough, and friendly faces can be hard to find; you never know what you will encounter at an assistance program. With an open heart and willing mind, my community service team and I carpooled to Vallejo to share our talents and learn from our experience.
Upon our arrival at the Community Center in Vallejo, we hopped out of the car and met the other volunteers, a team of high school students. There was a little separation between the two groups in the beginning as we introduced ourselves and signed in, but as soon as the truck with food pulled up there was work to do and no time to be shy! In the blink of an eye, tables were put out, pallets were set up, and an assembly line was formed. We all had our marching orders as to what goes in each bag, and instantly got to work with all the hustle we could muster.
In our Undergraduate program, we studied classical management techniques, the history of the evolution of organizational structures, and beyond. Learning these facts by rote will drill the concepts into your head, but the experience at the food bank brought it to life! We were constantly seeking the “one best way” a la Frederick Taylor, testing to see how to make the flow of the product move more efficiently. We specialized in our tasks and the products we handled as Adam Smith suggested in the Wealth of Nations and which Ford perfected in the automobile industry. We employed friendly peer pressure to goad each other on in a sort of reversed “soldiering” to go faster and be a stronger team member. Each person played their part, and the work was done in record time.
Once the bags were created, we shifted gears and got ready to meet the people who would be receiving them. Some of us took the role of greeting people and distributing bags, others took a role of maintaining the bags and keeping the supply chain rolling. I was part of the latter group, but I got an opportunity to meet and talk to the recipients as well. The most difficult realization was that the people we were helping were just like me. This was not some remote group in foreign lands suffering from malnutrition like you see in ads on TV. These are our fellow Americans, our neighbors, our friends. The truth is the face of poverty is our face, and their struggles are no more remote from us than our own shadow.
It can crush your spirit to see so many people struggling to get by day to day. Instead of a painful confrontation however, the work was done with a generous heart, the food gladly given and received, and everyone, including the recipients, was friendly and positive,. They were happy for the relief, and we were happy to assist them. There was no pity or resentment, just a real sense of compassion and gratitude. It felt good not just to do for others, but to be a part of a team working for a positive goal. My day at the Vallejo food bank was unforgettable; an experience I hope to repeat and share with many others.