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Reflections on a Year of Service

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

Today, like every Friday, our Weekly Harvest blog post goes up. However, this week’s post holds some extra significance for me as it marks my last Weekly Harvest blog post. As I prepare to wrap up my AmeriCorps VISTA term at Second Harvest Food Bank on Monday, I am filled with immense gratitude as I reflect on my year of service.

As AmeriCorps VISTAs, we typically work behind the scenes. Instead of participating in direct service like our AmeriCorps NCCC colleagues, VISTA members work on capacity building efforts that help their sites expand their programmatic or analytic capabilities to develop sustainable changes that will last long after their term ends. This past year, as Second Harvest Food Bank’s Client Engagement VISTA, I’ve focused on building Second Harvest’s outreach and engagement strategies by creating social media posts, distributing flyers, and sharing the stories of those we serve.

Throughout my service term at Second Harvest Food Bank, I’ve gained greater insight into the issues of food insecurity and poverty that many individuals and families in our community face. I’ve learned about rural hunger in Champaign and Logan Counties and how nutritious food plays a critical role in preventing chronic diet-related diseases. I’ve seen the effects of a food desert on a community after the Kroger in the south side of Springfield closed last year. I’ve explored how hunger impacts certain demographics differently, such as women, children, single-parent homes, African Americans, Latinx members, the elderly, and those with disabilities or experiencing homelessness. Food insecurity is connected to many other issues — including healthcare, housing, transportation, and minimum wage and employment — that our society must solve before we can fully alleviate hunger.

In my role, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many members of our community. For Poverty Awareness Month in January, I spoke to community leaders at the Department of Jobs and Family Services, WellSpring, McKinley Hall, the city of Springfield, United Senior Services, and our very own Executive Director at SHFB to highlight how poverty is connected to the organization’s area of specialty. We collaborated with the Clark County Public Library to compile summer reading lists related to food and nutrition to accompany our Summer Feeding Program. I spoke to people experiencing food insecurity and shared their stories and the impact SHFB has on their lives. For the past six months, I’ve interviewed some of our amazing volunteers, who we welcomed back after suspending our volunteer operations during COVID-19 with the assistance of the Ohio National Guard. I witnessed how a community could come together during an unprecedented global pandemic to support those who were affected most through unemployment, remote schooling, stay-at-home orders, and food insecurity.

I also had the opportunity to take the lead on some projects that I am proud to leave behind at Second Harvest, one of which is this Weekly Harvest blog that I started with Rachel, our Development VISTA! This post marks our 40th blog post, meaning we have posted a blog post about nutrition, poverty and hunger, volunteer recognition, SHFB staff members, and more for 40 consecutive weeks. I’ve greatly enjoyed researching these topics related to food and health and sharing what I’ve learned with our community. I also played a role in helping Second Harvest start their SNAP assistance program by applying for a grant from Feeding America. By sharing information about SNAP and debunking some myths associated with the program, we’re able to help those who qualify for these benefits receive extra nutrition assistance.

The people I’ve met and interacted with during my term have certainly been a highlight. I got to meet Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot when she visited our food bank and spoke at our inaugural Harvest Breakfast. At the Community Harvest Gathering that the VISTAs planned for Hunger Action Month, I had the opportunity to meet many of the community partners that I had been emailing throughout my term in-person for the first time. We got to interact with many individuals, families, and kids that attended, and it was great seeing everyone have a blast with the games and activities we planned. I’m honored that I had the chance to bring the community together for such a fun event.

I am extremely grateful to the Ohio Association of Foodbanks for this opportunity and to everyone at Second Harvest Food Bank, especially Audrey, Nicholas, and Tyra, for all their support and collaboration this past year. I’m thankful for the VISTAs I served with and the lasting collective impact of our capacity-building efforts. We were recognized for our service and participated in national service days together. I feel like we accomplished a lot, and I’m proud of our work and service together.

When I started my term at Second Harvest Food Bank, I knew I was going to have an amazing year. I have always been passionate about the issues of food insecurity, food waste, and food justice, but I am walking away from this experience feeling newly invigorated about these topics and inspired by the communities that rally to support those that need food assistance. I have a better understanding of the very real effects hunger has on someone’s health and wellbeing and the importance of progressive and transformative federal and state policies in order to solve poverty and food insecurity. When we come together, we’re able to make a real difference in people’s lives.

Even though I am leaving Second Harvest, I will always continue to support the food bank’s work. I hope you will join me in making an impact in the fight against food insecurity. Even if you can’t dedicate a full year to service, there are many volunteer opportunities throughout the week that are just as meaningful and important. By committing to spending just two hours every month to assist at a distribution or our warehouse, you can be a part of the movement to end hunger. If you have the means, please consider donating to Second Harvest, whether through a one-time donation, monthly giving, our Empty Bowls fundraiser, or our Giving Tuesday campaign. Every dollar you give results in 6 nutritious meals, so every dollar truly does help. And if you’re not able to donate financially, donating your time to volunteer or advocate for comprehensive hunger relief policies is just as valuable. Tell your neighbors about our programs and share information about our distributions because you never know who may need that extra assistance to put food on the table.

Our communities thrive when hunger is minimized. And I truly believe Clark, Champaign, and Logan Counties are thriving thanks to the work that Second Harvest Food Bank and our partners do every day. Hunger and food insecurity is a long, tough battle that requires legislative reform and social change, but through the strength and support of our neighbors and the efforts of Second Harvest, I know it is a battle that we will one day win together.

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