What a day we had, celebrating the core values of Cesar Chavez on his birthday, March 31st. After a stirring message from Karthik Prasad, a Fellow from Stanford University Haas Center for Public Service, a diverse group of 120 Paly students contributed 7200 hours in service-learning around Palo Alto and beyond. They chose from seven organizations based on their interests and the values of Cesar Chavez: Milpitas Food Pantry; Magic, Inc. at Stanford Dish; Half Moon Bay Restoration; Lytton Gardens Senior Community; Creative Montessori Preschool; InnVision; and Ecumenical Hunger Program. My daughter Grace and her best friend signed up for Ecumenical Hunger Program, but I was needed at Milpitas Food Pantry.
Once we got the four buses loaded, we headed to East Palo Alto for two of the sites, then to Milpitas with my group. Of course, the exciting part of community service is that you never know what you may be asked to do. Karen Kolander, the director and one-woman-show thanked us for coming and informed us that our group of nineteen working four hours each, represented seventy-six man-hours--a feat she could never accomplish alone. She assigned us the task of emptying the storage closet and the storage unit of all donations made since the holidays and check each package or can for a valid expiration date. If a can was badly damaged or expired, we tossed it. The "would-I-eat-this" test was also applied, with permission to throw out rusty or aging cans with no dates. It is astounding to see how many food donations are inedible. At the food pantry, and earlier in the month at a food donation bin, I noticed someone's discarded "specialty diet food." Of course, if you wouldn't eat that yourself, why would a needy or homeless person find it appetizing?
Our students stayed focused on the job at hand, and I worked to keep them busy. There's nothing worse than a bored volunteer. When some students were standing around, I found a job inside sorting shelves in the "share area," where recently-expired foods and household goods can be taken, two per client. By the time the students were finished with that part of the project, the shelves looked as good as a Mom and Pop grocery store. Lots of organizational talent was contributed that day at the food pantry. My only regret was that I couldn't be in two places at once. Grace and her group ran out of things to do at the Ecumenical Hunger site. The overworked director wasn't quite the drill sergeant that Karen was at the food pantry, and they didn't have a parent ordering them around. Maybe next time, they kids will be bold enough take the initiative and find extra ways to fill the time and make a difference. As Karen said, "I'm the only paid employee for this facility, except for the janitor who works a few hours a week. I could never do it without dedicated volunteers." One of her regular volunteers even brought a platter of freshly cooked Afghan food while we were there, "For everyone to share," he beamed. Volunteering with kindhearted people is just one of the perks of giving back to the community!
Core Values of Cesar Chavez: