What VISTA Means to Me
I'm sitting here at my desk reflecting upon my Year of Service which is rapidly coming to a close here at the Food Center. It is hard to share with you all the things I have learned, the programs we have built up, the people, the organizations we support...I could go on and on.
When Erin first spoke to me about becoming an Americorps VISTA and serving at Piscataquis Regional Food Center, I thought I knew a lot about food insecurity and poverty. When I first started here and introduced myself, I said I was a Super Hero wearing a VISTA t-shirt. 9 or 10 months later, I will tell you that it isn't me that is the Super Hero, it's the volunteers who keep organizations like this going. It's the volunteers and donors at PRFC, the Food Cupboards, and any other non-profit that is making the lives of even one individual better. I learned I'm not the Super Hero--I just help make sure the REAL Super Hero's can do as much as possible ;)
I came to VISTA and PR Food Center with a background working in our local school system, seeing hungry kids and how it affects them academically and socially. I knew I wanted to make a change for them. That is where my passion began and where I was hoping to focus my energy. We joke around in the office about us being the "tech support" for the Free Summer Meals program here in the Piscataquis Region. While we aren't the ones preparing the food, we are helping sponsors be more efficient, coordinate and recruit volunteers, and be that extra helping hand they need.
What I didn't know is that I would fall in love with our FarmShare for Homebound Seniors participants. I had no idea that I would get they would become such a part of me; that I would be able to share their stories, to be a voice and an advocate for them, and a witness to their lives and memories they shared. I had no idea that I would become so invested that I would sit in my car and cry after one senior said to us, "before you started delivering, I was only eating canned soup and noodles. You delivering food has me eating again."
I look forward to the 4th Wednesday of the month, so I can hang out with my "Spice Group" and listen to them share their thoughts, and their stories, and their ideas about cooking, learning about nutrition, and helping others. I LOVE their smiles, their laughter, their excitement to be a part of a group, and their faces when trying new foods--whether they love it or hate it, you most definitely know by the expressions on their faces!
I have sat at this desk working on our Hunger Awareness Campaign with a sense of urgency. It's not so easy to share about the work we are trying to do in one little 5" by 4" rectangle that we pray the community sees in the paper each month. 5"x4" cannot express what it means for a senior to finally get fresh produce from the farm. 5"x4" cannot convey a friend sitting down and sharing with you her story of how a Food Cupboard and SNAP benefits saved her life and the life of her unborn child--but she doesn't tell the story because people have ridiculed her for not being able to take care of themselves. 5"x4" cannot show how society's prejudice and the stigma associated with using the services needed creates a deep seeded shame within someone who is already suffering. 5"x4" is a tiny snapshot into the world of hunger and poverty. And like any snapshot, it only tells one small piece of the story. 5"x4" cannot convey the need for donations to fund the work we do.
Serving as a VISTA has been more than the programs though. I have grown so much as a person. I have been tested; creating these blogs and sharing the stories of what we do has stretched my creativity and forced me to find better ways of expressing the work PR Food Center is doing. Serving as a VISTA has certainly challenged me to look at my own views and beliefs and re-evaluate them, to take the time and make the frazzled new Mom using WIC in the grocery store not feel like she has to hide because she needs to feed her kids. I will wait the extra few minutes it takes for the WIC to be entered into the system and talk to the mom and make her feel at ease and not like she is doing something wrong for feeding her babies. I have learned to gently, and (hopefully) thoughtfully, challenge stigma, judgement, and prejudice and ask people to remember there is more to the story than meets the eye.
My service as a VISTA at PR Food Center has taught me how to be a better fundraiser, learn about writing grants, organizing volunteers, and so many other valuable skills I am taking with me on my next adventure and with other organizations I support and give my time, talent, and energy to! I have become a social media guru, learned to create ads for digital and newsprint media, helped my community, and made so many new friends.
We are still looking for someone to be the next Americorps VISTA at PR Food Center. It is not glamorous work, it certainly won't fill your bank accounts to overflowing, but it will take your heart and make it a little bit bigger, and make our community a little bit stronger, help just one more person get nutritious food, and support our partner organizations to reach individuals and families in need. If you think you are ready to prop up our community Super Hero's, let me know so I can tell you just one more story.