Jamie Cranmer is one of this year's two Volunteers of the Year. She is a third-year at UVA and volunteers with Medical Services, Big Siblings and Hoo's Assisting with Life Obstacles programs. Jamie is also an active member of Madison House's Student Giving Committee. Read Jamie's reflections below about her experience serving at the Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry.
Alright, let’s start off with two exercises. First, I want you to close your eyes and imagine what a person who needs food assistance looks like or acts like. You won’t have to share this, so be as honest as you can with yourself in your depiction of this person. Do you have an image in your mind?
For exercise two, I am going to describe a person to you, and I want you to say whether he or she needs food assistance or not. We have Dale, a 27 year old Marine who has just returned from Afghanistan. He is clean shaven, extremely mannerly, and is holding hands with his beautiful 4-year-old daughter. At first glance, do you think Dale needs food assistance? Your answer was probably no, right? Well, Dale has pretty severe PTSD, so he is unable to hold down a job, and that little girl’s mom is doing the best that she can to support the three of them, but it’s hard when most of their money goes to Dale’s therapist since the VA won’t pay for his mental health care. Please don’t fret if what you imagined is a drastic contrast to Dale because it is for most people. Hunger and needing help aren’t black and white issues, they are human issues.
To help you better understand what a person who needs food assistance is really like, I asked three Loaves and Fishes volunteers to share the one thing they wish more people knew about the people they see at Loaves and Fishes, and here is what they said:
“The one thing that I wish more people knew about Loaves & Fishes clients is that they're just like everyone else. They are not charity cases nor are they desperate; they just need a little extra help to get by. They care about each other and their families. They want to make their community better. They have interests and ambitions and dreams. They deserve the utmost respect.” –Melanie Weiskopf
“Many people seem to stereotype what they imagine food insecure/impoverished people to be like. They might seem them as unworthy or uneducated, but really they have so much to share and teach us. What is great about them is the diversity. These people come from such a variety of backgrounds and not all started as impoverished. Many are just going through a rough patch. They are not giving up on their lives. Many have families and want to support them in any way possible, but also still work hard to be self-sufficient.” – Cassie Plemons
“I wish they knew that almost every client I have encountered has been extremely grateful for the services Loaves provides and many of them apologize for ‘taking food.’ I try to remind them that we're here to help and not judge, but they still recognize the effort that goes into Loaves. It also goes to show the clients aren't just being lazy and trying to live off the government like many people stereotype them as, most clients are trying hard to get back on their feet and frequently express how much they want to be able to provide for themselves.” – Blair Holton
TL;DR: Remember what you learned in second grade — don’t judge a book by its cover, and treat people the way that you would like to be treated.