Fork It Over – Week 3

Where I went:
The Beaverton School District (BSD) serving Beaverton and parts of NW Portland, OR, sponsors this volunteer opportunity. Their welcome letter gives a program overview:

School cafeteria food, which would otherwise be thrown out, is packaged by nutrition services staff at each school and made ready for delivery to local food pantries.  Fork It Over volunteers pick the food up and make the delivery.  You help by transporting food from schools to a food pantry.  Whether you volunteer once a month, or once a week, your help is greatly needed.  The commitment is about an hour of your time and the use of your own vehicle. 

First Impressions:
Pouting about missing my original assignment at the Food Bank because of bogus snowstorm claims earlier this week, my mind eased when I received an immediate response from BSD regarding my request to volunteer with Fork it Over.  Necessary requirements were to be a background-check cleared volunteer with BSD (which I am) and to register on the Volunteer Spot website to reserve a route. 
My friend, Tara (the mother of the 10 year old asking for diapers to donate instead of birthday gifts), participates regularly with Fork It Over. She has long been telling me about this simple and rewarding opportunity. I asked for details regarding what I could expect, wanting to quell any irrational fears. Tara described a typical route, stressing the ease of the job. The only unfavorable experience she’d encountered happened when a cafeteria worker scolded her because Fork It Over hadn’t been collecting on schedule. Tara handled it professionally and gave Lunch Lady the program coordinator’s information.
I prayed no one would yell at me. Please, God, not my first time.
The Job:
The route I chose began at 10:00a.m. Traipsing between my car and school buildings in the pouring rain didn’t thrill me, but if that remained the only negative in this venture, I could deal with it.  Comprehensive emailed instructions stated to sign in at each school office, pick up boxes of donated food from the cafeteria, and deliver items to the Hope Food Pantry. Before leaving, I reviewed the specifications and panicked. The food pantry address listed on the welcome letter differed from the address listed on the Volunteer Spot website. Ugggh. I thought this job was supposed to be easy!
Five Oaks Middle School, my first stop, sits only 4 miles from my house. I entered the office to sign in.  A temp, not knowing about Fork It Over, filled in for the regular receptionist. She trusted I told the truth about my purpose there and directed me to the cafeteria. Middle School Lunch Lady handed me one box filled with 2 containers of sour cream and packages of Smuckers Uncrustables; frozen PB&J sandwiches with the crusts cut off. 
Five Oaks Middle School
The first box

“Okay,” I breathed a sigh of relief, “this job IS easy.”
I drove to my second stop, McKinley Elementary. Laughter of four women carried down the hall as I stepped into the lunch room. They all greeted me and lent me a cart in order to transport 5 boxes of donated food to my SUV. 
McKinley Elementary
One block south, the Health & Sciences School completed the school route. Housed in a business park rather than a typical school building, the instructional letter gave explicit location information. As directed, I spotted the door with a buzzer to ring the cafeteria staff. Quickly let in from the rain, I collected one more box for the food pantry.
The door with the buzzer at Health & Sciences School
I plugged one of the addresses I had listed for the food pantry in my iPhone map. The GPS led me to a church; not the “blue house” that was described. I entered the next address. While on my way to that location, I passed a mobile home with a sign reading, “Hope Food Pantry.” That was it! Wait, that address didn’t match either of the two that I had. I took my chances and parked in the lot. 
Note the address – different from either of the two given
Stepping into the downpour, I followed the entrance signs pointing to the back of the building.  The door marked “Enter” was locked. I knocked. No one answered. I internally freaked out. What was I going to do with this food?!?
I remembered seeing the pantry representative’s phone number on my Volunteer Spot instructions. Jogging back to the parking lot, I stopped when I saw a car parked by the exit on the other side of the building. Turning around, I ran through puddles and reached the door. This time, a woman answered and awaited my delivery. I hightailed it through the rain returning to my vehicle, pulled up to the ramp, and unloaded the boxes onto empty sorting tables. She offered to help, but I could handle it myself. No reason for both of us to be soaked.
The whole load – easily manageable.
Linda introduced herself as the coordinator of the Hope Food Pantry. She had just returned from Whole Foods where she picked up boxes of their donated goods.
“Whole Foods donates to the food pantry?” I asked, pleasantly surprised as I noticed a box of fruit.
“Mmmm-hmmm,” she nodded, “Trader Joe’s, too.  And not just produce. We get bakery items, meat, just about anything you can think of. They’re really generous.”
These are two stores that will continue to get my business, for sure.
Donated food ready to stock
Linda gave further details about the Hope Food Pantry.
“We are run by the Living Hope Church. People in need are allowed to come in once a week to get food. We are open Thursdays and Saturdays from 11:00-1:00.”
She lead me into the next room. Chairs were set up in rows facing a reception desk in front.
“Those who come wait in this room. At 10:45 we hand out raffle tickets and call numbers at 11:00. This controls how many people are in the food pantry at one time.”
Linda showed me a small office to the side of the waiting room where kids can play while their parents “shop”.
I expressed interest in helping at the pantry on a Thursday or Saturday. She responded that the church members provide a lot of help, but she’d take my number and let me know.
An idea came to me. “If you ever need a large group of people at one time,” I mentioned, “I am part of a new church looking for service opportunities.”
Her face lit up. “We just received a grant from the Oregon Food Bank for new floors! Soon, we’ll need a group to come and move all of the food out of the pantry area and then reassemble the room when the floors are in. Wow, I think it was a God-send that you came in!”
I know this morning was a “God-send.” After making the decision not to volunteer in North Portland earlier in the week due to scary weather reports, I felt sorry for myself because I thought I missed out on a great blog post. I was relieved the Fork It Over opportunity came through on short notice. Not necessarily to help others, but because I feared failing my own experiment. Without focusing on compassion, I was more worried about “rules”.
Now, I’m confident that God knew I needed to meet Linda. I’m not sure what will come out of our conversation, but I’m hoping for something great. 
Realizing that though I’ve created this project to learn how to serve others, my focus easily shifts to make it about serving myself. This week, I grew annoyed because my original plans were thwarted and I became frustrated not writing the blog post I initially intended. My priority centered on me and what I wanted. By connecting with Linda and discovering ways to help that I hadn’t previously imagined, God showed me that it’s about His needs, not my own.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8

How to Help:
If you live in the Beaverton School District and are already registered as a volunteer, all it takes is an email to Fork It Over and you will receive directions for obtaining a route. If you are not yet cleared by BSD, submit information online for a background check. 
This may be one of the easiest, quickest volunteer tasks I will experience, but I know I helped with a great need. School meals that would otherwise be wasted will now go to hungry families. Beaverton isn’t the only school district donating cafeteria leftovers. Investigate your school district’s policy and become involved in taking donated food to shelters or food pantries.

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