We honored Martin Luther King Jr. Day by volunteering at the Oregon Food Bank.
This state, remarkably, has one of the highest rates of hunger in the country, so we figured there is no right more basic than food.
We were greeted by almost 100 volunteers, already giddy with plastic hairnets, gloves and aprons for food safety. Most were children on a day off from school; most were girls.
Our first task? Bagging potatoes.
Groups gathered around huge bins of spuds, scooping them into five-pound bags for distribution to hungry Portlanders.
Hadi and I were impressed by the size and quality of the donation, perhaps a ton of good quality, fresh potatoes.
It was heartwarming to work alongside Girl Scouts (“My Mom makes the best gouda mashed potatoes!”; “These would be great as home fries — with bacon — yum!”). It was fun to work with quiet teens and joyous adults dedicated to packing as many potatoes as possible — faster than the energized kids.
No one could beat the energy of these kids. One little six-year-old endeared herself to all of us, by carrying several five-pound bags at a time to the distribution area. (“I carried three every time!” she told us.) Her mom explained “Sally” insisted on working at the food bank yesterday, all on her own.
Later, when we had finished hundreds of pounds of potatoes and were on to apples, we worked beside Sally and another little girl, “Rachel”. They worked so quickly, and without complaint, for hours.
They sorted; they bagged; and they hustled around their work areas quietly, with firm confidence. When I tried to help Sally at one point, she struggled to complete a task, insisiting she didn’t need aid.
“I can do it!” she said. And she did.
“It’s good to help!” Sally added, with a winsome smile. “It’s easy!”
And then, when the work proved slightly more difficult, she looked at me and said, “Maybe not so easy … but I can do it!”
Sally didn’t falter. She looked so earnest and determined, stomping from one end of our work area to another. All the children worked three hours without stopping.
No one looked at an iPhone or other device once; no one complained; and everyone helped each other. We agreed later that all these youths gave us great hope, amid all the current news about teen violence and high dropout rates.
“It’s great to work as a team!” boomed one man, in charge of some corporate group that had joined us.
It was such a corporate thing to say. But so true of all the helpers, on a snowy day in Portland.
I am so grateful to have been part of this team, that we signed up for another shift next week.