In December 2011, my family traveled to India. It was my first trip, and I loved experiencing the culture firsthand and spending times with relatives. But I was also forced to confront the poverty and filth visible everywhere we went.
More than once, we had leftovers from our meals and no realistic way of keeping them, so my dad would walk or drive around looking for a poor person in need of food. One woman with a young daughter saw us later and gushed her gratefulness in Hindi. I wanted to do something to help these people. I just didn’t know where to start.
Then, the summer before my senior year of high school, my mom suggested our family volunteer at the local food pantry. Not knowing what to expect, but willing to give it a try, I went to the Saturday morning food distribution shift. Like my trip to India, this experience was eye-opening.
At my station, I offered pasta options to the steady stream of people. They ranged in age from teenagers to grandparents. Some had siblings or children with them; others came alone. Many didn’t have cars and faced a long bus ride or walk with heavy grocery bags. One man walked in wearing his bicycle helmet. Some of them showed up every month, while others would come just once or twice to help them through temporary unemployment.
The one thing that struck me was the atmosphere of genuine happiness and gratitude, regardless of people’s circumstances. That first morning, and every time I returned, several shoppers thanked the volunteers. One woman, when asked, “How are you?” answered, “I feel blessed.”
I return to this food pantry as much as possible when I’m home. It has been a wonderful way to turn my concern about starvation into making a small impact on our world. I’m excited to bring these experiences to Swipe Out Hunger.
I encourage everyone to think outside the Penn bubble for just a few minutes on March 25th – come to the Gourmet Grocer under 1920s Commons between 10 am and 4 pm to donate meal swipes, which will go toward food for Philadelphia soup kitchens, schools, and families.