Bread for the City, SE Center, Washington, D.C.
"People won't have to beat the odds if we change the odds," says George A. Jones, CEO of Bread for the City. That is exactly what he, his staff, and volunteers do at Bread for the City -- work to change the odds for the 50% of children living east of the river from poor families, change the odds of the 33% of children and 25% single residents who have income at or below 150% of the federal poverty line, change the odds of residents living with food insecurity and those who live in the "food desert" of Wards 7 and 8 where there is only one supermarket for every 70,000 people, change the odds that many D.C. residents can't obtain proper health care, dental care, and/or legal assistance, and so much more. This wonderful work is being done day in and day out at two City locations; one on 7th Street, NW and the other at the SE Center in the heart of Anacostia -- on a street rightfully named Good Hope Road. This is where I was introduced to BFC's dedication for change and left feeling full of GREAT HOPE ...
The job of the day was in center's Clothing Room. In 15-minute time slots, 3 days a week, more than 700 clients a year visit this room where they select winter coats, long johns, pants, tops, suits, dresses, and shoes. Baby clothing and other accessories are also available. Volunteers sort through mountains of donated bags, place seasonal items on hangers and fill the gaps along the racks of men's, women's, and children's clothing. I jumped in and was ready to do anything. Requests came in rapid fire when they saw I moved fast and was ready to work. "Amy, can you ....?, Amy come here please. Amy, can you help me ...?" My answer, of course, was always, "yes!" I liked the fast pace of this room and enjoyed greeting the guests and cleaning up the racks. Mothers, daughters, and sisters came together to help one another pick out something new and many "shopped" for friends or grandchildren.
Beyond the Clothing Room, I learned that Bread for the City provides food and offers medical, dental, legal, employment, and other social services to the community. Today, was merely a taste of what BFC offers and I plan to see more at the NW Center as well as check in to see if any of my rusty legal skills can be put to work. After 44 years, Bread for the City really has really worked to "change the odds" and has a lot to show for it.
Though I loved this volunteer experience, my day was truly defined and enriched by the special people I met while working at BFC. They constitute my "Takeaway Section" today as they gave me the real gifts today!
My Takeaways: (1) First, meet Sholanda who I met while I was pridefully folding and displaying baby blankets, hats, and booties in the Clothing Room. She was "shopping" for her moms in the Diaper Program at BFC. Sholanda, who now directs the program, is a graduate of PEP, a Pre-Employment Program at BFC that prepares community members for the workforce. Families in her Diaper Program may visit twice a week and get up to 50 diapers a month. She offers other infant needs as well such as formula, bottles, pacifiers, bottles, bath products, and clothes. When available, strollers, walkers, car seats, and cribs are offered too. The Diaper Program distributes 10,000 diapers a year and is always in need of donations should you have baby things to pass along. What made me connect with Sholanda wasn't just her work, it was something she said casually, but passionately, while describing her program: "I don't want any mom to have to make her baby sleep in a wet or soiled diaper simply because she can't afford to change it!" The feeling I got and the image it conjured, punched me in the gut as a mother. How many nights did I jump when Jacob, Sarah, or Ella started to cry and immediately go to change their diaper in an attempt to comfort? How many days did my mom come over and make changing a diaper the start or end (or both) to her play routine? I hated lugging home the boxes of Pampers and certainly didn't love the price tags, but I never had to conserve or ration because of money! (I only rationed when I let my supply dwindle down or forgot to bring more when I left the house!) I never had to let my child cry because I needed them to make their diaper last til morning. Thank you Sholanda for showing me that whiel diapers of course are necessities, they are often forced to be used as luxuries.
(2) Next, is someone I hope to soon call "friend" as she taught me so much. Lashawn was the first to greet me and introduce me to the Clothing Room. After returning to her desk to check in clients, she kept an ear open to answer the questions that popped up as I worked. I called her an ambassador for BFC and, in fact, she is. She is President of the Client Advisory Council, a group of clients that works with staff to help the organization grow and better serve its client community. She knows whose job is whose, where things are, and the strengths of the organization and her neighbors. She had a lot to teach me and it wasn't all about BFC. First, I learned that she had a senior in high school, much like me. He was a competitive swimmer and had college prospects because of it. Next, I learned that Lashawn is crafty! She removed items around the Clothing Room that were damaged or imperfect. She said that others would throw it away, but she would take it home, fix it, and bring it back. I admired her craftiness and then she shared something deeper. Then, I learned that Lashawn was the mother of 8 children and grieved the tragic death of her eldest son who was shot six years ago. To honor the memory of her son, Lashawn works tirelessly to help the homeless and offers her craftiness to financially support her cause. Lashawn takes what people often take for trash, empty aluminum soda and beer cans, and transforms them into art. She proudly pulled up the piece that WUSA 9 did on her a few weeks before www.wusa9.com/article/news/local/dc/woman-turns-trash-into-art-to-help-the-homeless/65-510979528 from the computer and I was very impressed. Lashawn is likely very representative of her community. She is smart, good-hearted, generous, and hard working. Her life has been touched by tremendous grief and yet she still has compassion to share. I look forward to connecting with Lashawn outside of BFC and know I would continue to learn much from her.