As part of a new series, Pat Foote, volunteer writer for Food Lifeline, explores different parts of our organization. Follow along as she learns how “hunger doesn’t have to happen.”
My first time volunteering for Food Lifeline’s Fresh Rescue sessions starts in “dent-al school”: learning what dents in canned goods are acceptable and which dents pinched the metal so that the food inside could be compromised. The former are rescued. The latter are discards.
Oh, if it were always so simple. The next three hours fly by as I learn to sort boxes of Food Lifeline donations.
Some judgment calls are easy. So long, box of shelf-stable milk whose damp bottom betrays a small leak. Ditto for four torn bags of soup mix spilling their lentils. No question the bottles of Ensure with months left before their expiration date are still good. A can of baked beans is only mildly dented and into the proper box it goes.
It’s an efficient process. Each large sorting table holds a scale and a standard arrangement of cardboard boxes for dry goods, canned goods, non-food items, etc. A cheat sheet specifies how many pounds go in each. A conveyer belt whisks full boxes away.
When in doubt, I ask advice from the cheerful, helpful veterans among our dozen or so volunteers.
But sometimes we are stumped. Boxes of wasabi paste and beautiful jars of chutney with no discernable pull dates? Those require a consult with the head guy: Hank Nguyen, Food Lifeline Volunteer Repack Coordinator. He is the longest-serving Food Lifeline employee and a master at his job.
He is a blur of managing volunteer time. Hank wheels in fresh pallets of donations just when the production line threatens to run out. He checks that people take their breaks. He patiently stops mid-stride to answer questions about specific items.
And he contributes hugely to my take-away impression: Volunteer hours at Food Lifeline are treated with respect.
We got careful orientation. We were kept fully occupied without being overwhelmed. The session started promptly, then ended precisely three hours later as we tidied up for the next crew. Fellow volunteers were friendly while focused on the job at hand.
I felt I gave my time to an organization that truly values it.
You will help hungry people. And you may never look the same way at a dent again.