Arden, age 22.
Host site: South Whidbey Good Cheer in Langley, WA
“I’ve always known I wanted to help people, but I was never quite sure how to make that happen. Should I be a teacher, or maybe a doctor? When I was nine years old, my parents decided to become foster parents. They recognized that we led very privileged lives and wanted to give back to the community. After being interviewed by my siblings’ caseworker, I knew that social work is what I wanted to do. She was an incredible, vibrant person who loved what she did, and my heart was set.
I graduated last year from Seattle University with a degree in social work. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, it was a tough year to graduate and look for a job. I definitely didn’t expect to be unemployed for eight months. I learned about this position from an online job listing, but I had also met someone through my mom who served time with AmeriCorps and loved it. I was thrilled. It was exactly what I wanted- to give back to my community while also gaining relevant work experience.
Whidbey Island has a large population of working-class people, like in farming and construction, so shutdowns really affected us. About half of our residents are what we call ALICE households, or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. They aren’t strictly below the poverty line, but have little to no expendable income. Knowing that my neighbors are struggling to meet their basic needs drives me to take action. I’ve already been giving eggs from my chickens to my neighbors, but now have the opportunity to do more as I serve them at the food bank.
Though the need is even greater, we’ve actually had fewer people coming through to the food bank. Part of it is that, due to COVID restrictions, they’re no longer able to come inside and shop for themselves. However, I’ve also learned from the on-site staff that when people get financial assistance, they often put it towards food instead of saving it for emergencies. We live in a shame-based society that tells people they need to support themselves, so they’re hesitant to ask for help. Many people think that resources should go to someone else that needs them more. It’s unfortunate, because if you’re struggling, that’s all the justification you need. If you can get food at a food bank, that’s money you could be saving for other things like rent and utilities. We encourage our clients to save their money and shop with us, even if they feel financially secure that month. As we’ve learned over the past year, you never know what the future will hold.
I love my work at South Whidbey Good Cheer. This morning, we processed an unbelievable amount of local apples, brought to us by the Gleeful Gleaners, and made five gallons of applesauce. We also do a lot of farm work, including planting, washing, and bagging vegetables in the on-site garden. My duties consist of anything we can do to support the food bank and its clients. It’s been wonderful knowing that my neighbors’ needs are being met, and it feels even better to know that I am playing my part in making sure of that.”