By Elaine Carmichael, Kids Table Summer Volunteer
It was a warm summer Friday, and EmPower Place was bustling with activity. Kids of varying ages were coming in to play and interact with friends, as well as to get a yummy lunch. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the definite favorite.
On this particular day, it was nearing the end of my shift when a group of five siblings came in for “lunch to go”. They said the baby was out in the car with their parent. Our open lunch sites, like EmPower, typically serve up lunches on site, but it was clear to me that this family had some special circumstances this day. I told the kids I would put the sandwiches and other soft items in one bag and the milk and firmer items in another. The youngest child, who was 4 or 5 years old, became very concerned, and stated “No, no. They all have to be in different bags.” I flippantly replied I was saving plastic from our planet. He, however, was dead serious, and so I made up five individual lunch bags.
After clearing up the residuals from lunch, I suddenly realized what I had just witnessed. This indeed was food insecurity at a basic level. The youngest child was fearful – he needed the security of having his lunch – not in a bag with the food for his other siblings. Because this child comes from a home where there isn’t always enough for everyone. He needed to lay claim to one complete bag as his own. Hunger was an ongoing challenge for him.
This experience has had a lasting impact on me. I am now more sensitive in my interactions with both adults and children while volunteering here in various capacities. I try to listen more carefully to what they are communicating both verbally and nonverbally. I hope to impart a sense of compassion and dignity to all interactions with our customers. I am proud to be a volunteer here at our Missoula Food Bank and Community Center.