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For millennia, people have asked a universal question. “What is my responsibility to my fellow humans?” Maybe it’s as simple as the word itself: response-ability, the ability to respond.
During the pandemic, people needed access to food. Four Washington county heroes answered that call. They prefer to be called volunteers, but they are heroes nonetheless. They had the ability to respond, and they did, and along the way discovered unexpected benefits at the Greater Washington County Food Bank.
CNX’s Blake Lightholder saw the need. “I knew the numbers. When the demand went up, the need for volunteers went up. We tried to go where we could make the biggest impact.”
Melissa Stein of Stein Wealth Advisors understood. “It upsets me- we’re a prosperous country and some people don’t have enough food. Many people are surprised to know how many Americans struggle providing healthy food for their families,” she said. “It’s our duty in each of our communities to ensure our children and families have access to wholesome, healthy food.”
Individuals and corporations stepped up, providing the hundreds of volunteer hours needed to get the food out.
“A lot of hands touched this food to get it to families,” EQT Engineer Chris Harmon realized when he volunteered. In true engineer fashion, he precisely described the assembly line process - “Fold a box, then send it down the line, drop in two cans of beans, one rice, one cereal and send it on.”
“It’s eye opening,” he added, “seeing how much work goes into getting one box of food to a family, and then it might not last very long.”
Lightholder took away an important realization. “The Food Bank couldn’t do this job without us showing up. It was enough for us to see, to help.”
Harmon, Lightholder and Stein participated in a Food Bank engagement day, where local businesses send employees to volunteer during business hours. They packed boxes, never seeing the people who received them.
“They’re our neighbors,” observed Lightholder. “It doesn’t matter whether they are an immediate neighbor. We benefitted the community, not one individual.”
Stein took it more personally. “Every time I packed a box, I thought about the family I couldn’t see. I wondered who would get it. I knew it was a local family in need.”
Helping others often brings unexpected benefits.
“Banding together for a few hours, outside of the office was great. We didn’t all know each other, but after thirty minutes we worked the assembly line like a well-oiled machine. It became fun and therapeutic,” said Lightholder. “For us, it was a really great team building experience. I wish everyone could experience it and enjoy the camaraderie and satisfaction.”
Harmon agreed. “The nice thing was the face-to-face interaction. It was very rewarding.”
The Food Bank needs corporate volunteers, but its life blood are individuals who have been with the GWCFB for years. Retired postal worker Dixie B (she’s shy about using her last name) does it all - sells at the farmers market, sorts clothing at the thrift store, packs boxes, and loves getting her hands dirty.
“I guess it goes back to my Grandmother. That’s what we did. She said ‘service’ is our middle name.”
When asked how it feels to help out, Dixie B said, “I don’t know how to answer that. It’s just a part of you, always helping people. My goal is to make people smile.”
Lightholder could generalize. “Having an immediate impact on the community was rewarding for me. There are few better feelings than giving back.” He saw it as a cycle of life. “For me, it completes the cycle - we make our living here, support our families here, the community supports us. When we support the community, it completes the cycle of good will.”
Like the others, he recommends the experience. “I encourage anyone to try it, and see how giving is making an impact.”
Harmon went home and told his wife they should make sure their children grow up in an atmosphere of service to others, so the next generation will also take responsibility.
Stein took it one step further. “It makes me ask ‘How can I help more?’”
For Dixie B, it’s simple. “I like helping people. I go where God leads me, to do what He wants me to do.”
There are many ways to volunteer: The FARM, the thrift store, the training center. Are you inspired? Do you have the ability to respond? Go to foodhelpers.org/volunteer
Content brought to you by: The Dr. Malcolm Ruben and Dr. Jerold Ruben Fund of the Washington County Community Foundation