Feed The Hungry: Volunteering while on Vacation – Week 32

Where I went:
In Central Oregon, the Bend Community Center opens it’s doors every Sunday for its Feed the Hungry program. From 9:00am-4:00pm, those who don’t have a place to call home can go where food is served, the t.v. is on, and stay warm or cool depending on the need.

First Impressions:
For the 2nd time this summer, the dilemma of volunteering while out of town for the week arose. My husband had business in Sunriver, a Mt. Bachelor resort town south of Bend. Our daughters and I tagged along with him so we could take advantage of a resort vacation. I guessed opportunities to serve the less fortunate at the resort would be slim to none. 
I internet surfed to see what serving possibilities I could find in Bend, the largest city near Sunriver. A Google search brought up the Feed the Hungry program. I emailed a message to the volunteer-coordinator contact listed on the website. The response quickly popped in my Inbox with a volunteer application to complete, a waiver form to sign for the girls, and instructions to ask for Taffy, the project coordinator, when we arrive.
The week prior to traveling, I psyched myself up for the conversation I needed to have with my daughters. Sometimes I wonder if its fair for me to expect them to serve so much just because I gave myself the goal of serving weekly in 2012. After all, we’ve anticipated our Sunriver trip all year. I prepared for the complaining and whining I would hear from them about taking a vacation day to volunteer.
“Girls,” I approached them with a high, sing-songy voice. As if that would help. “So, you know how we’re going to Sunriver on Saturday?”
“Well, I signed us up to help feed the homeless on Sunday morning. It’s about a 1/2 hour away from the hotel, so we’ll have to get up a little early to be there for the morning shift.”
Really? That was it? No sniveling, no griping. Just, “Ok.”
Ok, then. We were going to feed the homeless on our vacation. Awesome.
The Job:
My iPhone GPS led me straight to the Bend Community Center and parking was plentiful. We entered through the dining room and I asked the first worker I saw to direct us to Taffy. She lead us back into the work room and yelled toward the kitchen for the project supervisor. Taffy glanced up and saw we had paperwork in hand, directed us to sign in on the volunteer sheet and assigned our jobs. No welcome or pleasantries. There wasn’t time. The volunteer work pace bustled in the midst of the breakfast shift.
Because I had kids younger than 16, we needed to be given tasks outside of the kitchen. One veteran volunteer whisked my eldest away to put potato chips in Ziploc baggies that would go into lunch sacks prepared for the homeless. 

First you take the chips, then you put them in the bag.
Later at lunch time, the patrons would be treated to a hot meal, drinks and dessert and then given a small sack of food to take with them. 
My youngest and I set out treats at the dessert table and then chopped vegetables for the salad bar. I trusted my 10 year old with a sharp knife and she chopped the broccoli like she watched the Food Network all summer.  
Doing my best Dana Carvey impression, I sang, “Choppin’ Broccoli.” She didn’t get it.

“Choppin’ Broc-o-layyyhayy”
We sliced and diced and were instructed to use every single bit of usable food that we could. Any food item that wasn’t edible got tossed in the food waste bucket. I guessed for composting, but I was wrong. It’s for the chickens. I wasn’t sure whose chickens – but they need to eat too, I guess.

Chicken feed
With the chopping complete and the salad vegetables in crocks and on ice, Taffy beckoned me to the kitchen. She asked me to wash and cut up a huge bucket of zucchini and yellow squash for that night’s supper – salmon stir fry. Racks of salmon waited to to be tossed in the veggie mix.
“Holy cow!” I exclaimed, “Who donated all of that salmon?” 
That stuff in not cheap.
“It was all free,” Taffy responded “donated from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. When they catch poachers, all of the game comes to the soup kitchen.”
Amazing. It’s stupid to poach, for sure. But to have all of that illegally caught meat go straight to the poor? Well, that’s just sweet justice.
Taffy listed the game she’s cooked for Feed the Hungry. Halibut, elk, deer, wild sheep, geese and bear. Yes, bear. You don’t see bear recipes on Rachel Ray now, do ya’?
She recounted the time a half of a cow was donated. Specifically, the hindquarters. It was dropped off at the workspace like someone was just sawed the cow in half. Taffy asked for help from a taxidermist to take care of the ugly details and then called a butcher to butcher. Fun stuff for a community center worker to handle.
She continued to tell me the statistics of the homeless in Central Oregon – they have one of the highest homeless rates in the country but hardly any services for them. She said less than 10% of local churches participate with the local needy. 
She further lamented saying most churches go to other parts of the world to help. Of course there’s a need everywhere, but most think going overseas is “sexy” and where the media spotlights. Helping in your own neighborhood is admitting that poverty is in your own backyard and it’s too hard to come face to face with that every day.
Taffy showed me where she cooked the stir fry meal that would feed over 500 that night. The community center serves between 1000-1500 people each Sunday. That’s a lot of people who can’t afford food. And that’s just those who can get themselves to the community center.
She told me of the homeless that freeze to death in the snowy winters. They once found a man, a Vietnam Vet, dying of frost bite in his makeshift tent. When they went to rescue him, his back looked like ground meat. His legs needed to be amputated. He is alive and living in a care home.
“He could survive the war,” Taffy said sadly, “But he couldn’t survive being homeless.”
Taffy, this woman who embodies the true “nature of a servant”, carries this load on her shoulders. I want to help carry the load. But how? What can I do? It’s so overwhelming.
I started this blog to gain a better sense of compassion. But now I want more. I want everyone to have more compassion. I know – telling others how to behave is out of my control. I just have a hunch that this blog isn’t only about me anymore.
How to Help:
Every Sunday the Bend Community Center runs the Feed the Hungry program. Helping isn’t scary. My young daughters only came in contact with other volunteers. It isn’t difficult. Taffy and weekly workers will give you instructions. 

I don’t know a lot of Bend residents, but I do know a lot of people that vacation there and in nearby Sunriver. Consider giving up 2 hours in your week of luxury to help those who may only eat a few times in the next 7 days.
You don’t need to live in Oregon to make a difference. Everyone reading this blog has hungry people living near them. Go. Help. Now, please.
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