One of the most important lessons I’ve learned since the pandemic began is that it’s one thing to hand out food, but it’s another to cultivate relationships with regular clients and volunteers. Over the last few weeks, I’ve felt a loss in the sense of community often found in the lobby area during lunch or dinner times, as these are now replaced with to-go windows. With the new preventive measures in place to keep both ourselves and our clients safe, it feels like starting over again.
Perhaps my favorite morning task at my service site, Assumption Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen, was to welcome clients into our food pantry for intake at my office. Here, I had the opportunity to interact with them in a more intimate setting, where they felt comfortable to speak freely about their lives. These interactions put a pause on the fast paced mornings of the pantry and helped me build relationships with them. Now, no services are offered inside our facilities. Instead, we try to serve them as quickly and safely as possible, by having them call ahead of time to give us their information and set up a pick-up time. When everything is ready, one of our volunteers heads outside with a pre-packaged box of food for our clients.
Our soup kitchen routine also looks different. Our clients would come into the lobby area to pick up a bag with sandwiches and other goods. Sometimes they would stay for a couple of minutes to chat with each other or with the volunteers working the window. The lobby area was a welcoming place especially on those rainy or snowy days in Syracuse. Now, our clients stand outside at least six feet apart from each other. They wait patiently as we call them one by one to serve them their sandwiches.
Starting over is not at all bad. During this pandemic, I’ve seen service and community through new lenses. I admire my community members, site supervisor and fellow food pantry and soup kitchen volunteers, whose love and dedication for the marginalized of Syracuse is far greater than any fear of uncertainty. When all of our placement sites were deemed essential, we were given a choice: to continue serving while following the proper social distancing guidelines, or to remain home and support our community in a prayerful way. We all chose to serve. As we begin the countdown to the final two months of FrancisCorps, I am excited to see how we can grow closer as a community and with other fellow brothers and sisters in need.
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