By Rachel Zanfardino, FC 20
My entire life, I have always had an interest in service. I was a member of service clubs and did service trips throughout college. It was a crucial need that I felt to give back to those who were less fortunate than I was, to promote justice and equity for the unequal. It is because of this that I knew I would be doing a year of service.
This year is nearly 3/4 of the way over, and the person who is writing this has a very different perspective than the one who began it. The idea of service is glamorous. Not in the sense that you will be working with marginalized people, or with the false interpretation that you will make a lot of money and do fancy things, but in the sense that you have an idealized notion that you will help people, with the clear and obvious support, safety, and resources that you expect to need. You don’t anticipate feeling stressed out by a job that on paper should be simple, and you never anticipate feeling unsafe.
But there is a reality that no one talks about. One that my clients have to endure on a day to day basis. One that includes a narrative of sexism, inequality, violence, harassment, anger, and the systems of oppression that keep these people in these places experiencing these things. There are days that you feel really under staffed and under supported and underfunded. No matter what, I Rachel Zanfardino will not solve hunger. I will not be able to feed everyone and I will not be able to give them everything they need to survive and feed their families. And because of this, many people will not be happy with me. This is where the glamour fades and the reality that service is really hard comes in. Many times, I have to face the violence that my clients have to face. I have to experience the sexism and the derogatory remarks that my strong independent new female friends have to endure. I now have to feel my position of power, where I have food, and someone else is asking me for it, and I have to say no to them, maybe for a completely valid reason, but it is because of me that they cannot bring home that small amount of food for their family to get through today. And that is hard. And not glamorous. And it changes the way that you see people.
The marginalized communities in the world are always put into boxes of limitations, ones that prejudges them, their character, and their limitations. This year has taken those expectations and completely thrown them out the window. It has shown me how to treat others with the human dignity that they so rightly deserve. Many of my clients that come in here are considered the voiceless. This comes with the lack of power that their lack of money provides. It has been really powerful to take a step back from my extroversion and talkativeness to finally hear others. To take the intentional steps to listen to the clients who walk through those doors.
Now don’t get me wrong. There is a beauty that is incomparable in service too. I have made beautiful connections and friendships this year. It has been in the same situations of discomfort and stress that I have been able to feel absolute gratitude from giving a client a simple loaf of bread to feed their family. It is through these amazing connections that I have helped women who have been domestically abused to get the resources they need to become safe again. It is in this service that I was asked to be the Godmother of a beautiful little baby boy because that baby’s mother and I had actually become friends who enjoyed the company of one another. It is where clients who have nothing wanted to show me love and spent money just to buy ingredients to make me cookies. It is where the people who told me they’d have my back always actually did, when I had to protect my other clients and volunteers being threatened. These people who I would not have met if I had not done this year are what have made this year all worth it.
It is through the lows that we can better see and understand the highs. Often times we like to only relish in the highs, recognizing that they are what are visually most appealing and rewarding. No one likes to feel down or broken. No one likes to admit being weak. But it is through that darkness that we are best able to see the realities of our situations and really see the light.
St. Francis said, “preach the Gospel and when necessary use words”. That means that you need to just do it. Actions speak so much more than words do. This year, I am experiencing the real highs and lows of what it means to do full and complete service, to live the gospel. And I need to be so thankful to those low moments, because without them, I never would have been able to appreciate how good the good ones are. I am not doing a year of service because I am going to end hunger in Syracuse, NY forever- that would be irrational. However, I am doing service to better understand the impact that I can have, even if on a smaller scale. It is through this year that I can see that the simple joys of listening rather than talking, and taking the time to recognize the human dignity of all people out weigh the burdens that these jobs possess.
Rachel is the Assistant Director of Assumption Church Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen. Visit our service sites page to learn more about Rachel’s site and others we offer.