Guest post by John VanLandingham, Food Bank volunteer: Toward the month’s end, many area families’ pantries start emptying. And because payday won’t come soon enough to restock, many families turn to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano for assistance.
For established Food Bank clients, the process of receiving food at various distribution sites is not a problem. But for many first-time families who speak only Spanish, the process can be daunting.
Will they be asked to prove their income, the size of their families, their immigration status? How can they answer these questions in a language they don’t understand and how do they navigate the registration process?
Knowing it can be challenging for some clients, it is important to the Food Bank to communicate with every applicant and to help make the process of getting food as easy as possible. With an increasing number of people who receive food at our distribution sites within the Hispanic/Latino community, staffers and volunteers without Spanish language skills become more reliant on the assistance of bilingual volunteers such as Jesus Avalos.
Jesus, a 17-year-old senior at De La Salle High School, donates his services at the Food Bank’s Vallejo distribution site, assisting first-time applicants register and obtain food. He was recruited after responding to a volunteer announcement for bilingual volunteers who speak Spanish.
“I had been looking for opportunities to help. Somebody told me about the Food Bank,” he says.
Jesus volunteers anywhere from eight to 10 hours every month, sometimes more or less depending on his school work.
On distribution dates, Jesus travels to the distribution site and joins other volunteers in preparing for the day’s distribution. Once in Vallejo, he helps unload the food from the trucks, set up tables and chairs, bagging fresh produce, bread, and USDA commodities and then goes over to the registration table where his skills are needed most.
“I ask them if this is their first time. If so, I ask questions about their need, what food you have to have, family size and other questions. Some get scared. They fear we are going to check out how much money they have. I say we don’t check anything, just your verbal confirmation. No forms, no background checks,” the North Concord resident states in Spanish.
Sometimes the clients are nervous about immigration. “I think at times when we’re discussing their current household income, they get a little bit nervous. But they learn soon I’m not asking about immigration,” Jesus says.
He remembers one lady who nervously kept hovering near the door leading into the distribution site. Finally she came over, asking in Spanish, what she needed to do to register for food. “I told her she didn’t need to do anything except come in and register and sure enough she did. Later she came back and told me I was a great help. It was a good feeling.”
Jesus’ efforts on behalf of the Food Bank have impressed the staff. “I think this young man is great. He is so mature for his age and interacts with the clients as though he’s been doing this for a very long time. I really admire him and am amazed by his skill level. Having him on board is definitely a big bonus for us,” says Julie Redmond, Food Assistance Program Coordinator.
But Jesus will graduate and go off to college next fall to study engineering leaving a void the Food Bank desperately wants to fill.
Meanwhile the Food Bank’s need for bilingual volunteers extends beyond Vallejo, says Redmond. “Approximately 80% of our Bay Point clients are Spanish speaking and it would be great if someone like Jesus could help interview and communicate with them.”
Bilingual area residents with Spanish language skills wanting to volunteer may email the Food Bank at firstname.lastname@example.org.