By Rachel Zanfardino, FC 20
I learned how to read in the kitchen. My mom would hand me a recipe, ask me to read the next step, and then to do whatever it said. It was something that sort of came easy to me and that I enjoyed doing. I have two brothers, and as far as siblings go, we couldn’t be more different. But the one thing that always seemed to unite us was food. We all liked cooking it, baking it, experimenting with it, and most of all, eating it. My mom put a lot of effort into teaching each of us the basics and expanding those out into more advanced recipes and techniques. I certainly took these skills for granted, as I did not realize that other people did not connect to food the way that we did.
When discerning my post college life path, I knew that I wanted to do service. FrancisCorps allows you to have a say in the site that you end up at, which made the program really appealing. As someone who utilizes food to bring people together, spread joy, and as a love language, I knew that the position at the Assumption Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen would be a perfect fit.
Behind the walls of 808 North Salina St. lies a beautiful organized chaos that helps fuel the souls and bellies of many of the people in the neighborhood. These last four months have given me the opportunity to work with volunteers, order, organize, and distribute food, cook, problem solve, collect donations, have a whole bunch of laughs, and talk with the people. As an extroverted person, I have never had a hard time talking to people but I also have never gotten to talk with people like this.
Working the desk at the pantry, my clients come in eager to fill their bodies with nourishment, and provide for their families. I start out each conversation with a “how are you?” This common US phrase is pretty confusing when you really think about it, as most people answer with a “good” without even thinking about it. When I ask people “how are you” there is a more intentional response. People are so willing to share so much about their lives with me, and I am so interested in experiencing their reality with them.
We feed a lot people! In fact each month, the soup kitchen can feed anywhere from 200-400 people each day, and the pantry can feed anywhere from 200-300 families each month. That is 200-300 families in the Northside of Syracuse who are reliant on an outside resource to ensure that they are able to do one of the most innate human activities: eat. These numbers shocked me in the beginning of my service. This is partially because it’s such a large number, but it is also because it has made me reflect on the way that I take food for granted.
There are a few really distinct things that I have learned since starting to work here: everyone gets hungry: you, your volunteers, your family, your clients, their families, everyone. This hunger plays a direct impact on people’s moods and abilities with, for example, being hangry or hungry and angry at the same time. This can directly impact someone’s ability to work, provide love and affection to their family, or simply function in general. There are some things that food can fix. Food has the ability to bring people together, uniting them over a common necessity. A simple extra cookie can bring joy to the face of almost any child, and a bowl of hot soup can warm someone’s whole body on these freezing Syracuse nights. There are some things that food cannot fix however. Food isn’t the one to listen when people come in to talk about their unsafe and unsettled relationships.
I may be helping to feed the people of Syracuse with food but they are feeding me right back. Feeding my soul with simple joys and nourishing my spirit with the reminder of the importance of stories and conversation. My job has reminded me how important it is to show each person in this world the human dignity that they deserve and are often denied. Being a part of a marginalized community, many of my clients are treated as less than. By learning each of their names and hearing their stories, I am becoming full with the joy of these relationships.