Thursday volunteering

Back in January, when the post-holiday + dark days + underemployment blues hit, I thought it might be a good idea to try some volunteering during days where I wasn’t subbing. I was already volunteering with a local mentoring program on Tuesday evenings, but I was looking for something a) not necessarily youth-specific and b) that had daytime volunteer opportunities. I poked around the internet, but ultimately it was a tweet by Chelsea Clinton that made me sign up to volunteer with City Harvest. They fit my limited criteria and, to me, their mission is extremely impactful. While they don’t serve my community specifically, as part of the Greater NYC area I still can relate to the scope of their programs.

First I had to sign up for a volunteer training. That took a couple months to get a date that I could attend that wasn’t already filled up. Then, there was the crazy-ness that was this spring. So, no dice. Finally, a few weeks ago I got the weekly email blast highlighting  projects that are short on volunteers. It was on a Thursday from 10-1. Hmmm? I don’t know if I could make it back in time.

In time for what, Tremaine?…Yes, exactly.

The volunteer opportunities take place all over the city, but the one I would be helping with was at their warehouse in Long Island City, which is here. Usually we walk the mile-ish to the NJ version of the subway called the Path, but in these suffocating summer days we’ve sometimes taken the bus via the Lincoln Tunnel. We should do this more, it is jus another thing to pay for. But the bus stop is 1 block away, so sometimes it is totally worth the extra $3.50. I got on the bus on Day 4 of the Penn Station Amtrak construction “fun”, so even later in rush hour the tunnel traffic was b.r.u.t.a.l. Eventually I made it to Penn Station, where I got on the subway and made my way under the other river.

After a short walk, with a killer view of the eastern Midtown, I got to a very industrial building. I knew what to expect, thank you Google Maps Street View, but there were so many construction crews working on the sidewalk, semi-truck trailers, the road, the gate, the sky! Kidding about the sky, but navigating my way to the entrance did not seem like something I should have been doing without a hardhat, haha. They really need some better signage to get you back to their entrance at the last dock of of the bay, but after wandering like a sweaty cat some nice man made sure I was going in the right direction by simply saying, “Just keep going.” Thanks, man.

Empire, Chrysler, UN…and a bunch of stuff in-between.

Our project was nothing Earth-saving. It was stuffing gift bags and some other help for their upcoming fundraising gala. Their biggest fundraising event of the year. There were about 10 of there to assemble 300+ gift bags. This is where I’m going to sound like a b****. I think I could have done it faster by myself. But, I had to remind myself I was volunteering during the daytime on a weekday, that stereotypically attracts a certain type of person. Yes?

We made our little assembly line, which was HIGHLY inefficient, but who am I to correct a couple grandmas seasoned veterans with clearly more gift-bagging experience than me?

When we were finished we made what they call “re-pack” bags with mesh netting. If you checked out their website you might have already read this, but one thing they do is take bulk shipments of produce, say one ton of onions, and then repack them into 5 lb. bags to give to food pantries, soup kitchens, etc. After that, we were able to get a tour of the facility with the warehouse manager. He doesn’t normally do the tours, so we got kind of lucky because I think some of his information was a little less scripted and informal. It really was fascinating to see SO. MUCH. FOOD., but know that within a matter of days it will be in the hands of people who are food insecure. The warehouse processes at least 5 semi-trailers of food a day. We watched watermelons from Georgia get unloaded. 10 tons of watermelon get unloaded in a matter of minutes. The process and efficiency that the warehouse demonstrated in our short tour was astonishing.

An aisle of dry-goods. Imagine a mini Costco? They also have a refrigerated room and freezer room. Product on these shelves is changing daily.
Sometimes the organization has to take items that are harder for them to move in order to get the stuff their recipients need most. For example, this is a 900 lb. box of loose elbow macaroni. Imagine how many boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese you’d have to empty to fill this? They can’t break it down into smaller bags because they don’t have a “clean room” and very few places do. So, they are hopeful one of a handful of agencies in NYC with a clean room will take it (and its brother palleted below) off their hands.

Riding my gift-bag high, I decided I should ride the East River Ferry to Wall Street and then somehow work my way back. The ferry was lovely. Best $2.75 I think you could spend on public transit. However, next time in 95 degrees I need to actually bring a lunch and have cash to buy more water on demand. (This is random unsolicited advice, but if you come to NYC and want to ensure you can combat dehydration and low blood sugar on demand as to not pass out on the sidewalk, carry cash! Consequently, we rarely carry cash and have still yet to adhere to my own advice.)

I decided to write about this experience because this, again, is something that being underemployed allowed me to do. And I was grateful to be the 32 year-old who shows up on a Thursday ready to run in circles around the assembly line and get shit done.



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