Blue gloves and hair nets: Food bank attracts variety of volunteers

By KELLIE KOTRABA

neighborhoods@ColumbiaMissourian.com

Blue-gloved hands reached into a tub of hot dogs, grabbing slippery handfuls and filling plastic bags. Halfway across the room, other hands taped food-filled boxes closed. Down the line, children’s hands prepared boxes for filling.

As the saying goes, many hands make light work, and the volunteers at the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri have kept their hands busy.

A friend and I donned hairnets and gloves one Saturday morning alongside about 10 students from Columbia Independent School. When we returned on Tuesday, we became part of a larger force, working with the three groups that came that night: a fraternity, a church and a youth group.

“We get great fraternities that come in, much to my surprise,” said Deron Briggs, volunteer coordinator. “After working here, my view of fraternities has changed.”

Seven of 20 men from the Acacia Fraternity at MU volunteered Tuesday night.

“We’re a really small fraternity, and we try and keep ourselves active,” said Ben Durham, senior.

They laughed as they worked, but despite their continuous jokes, they took their task seriously. Kevin Weber, sophomore, said that although it sounds cliché, the best part of helping was serving others without expecting anything back.

With a few other volunteers, they bagged about 3,050 pounds of hot dogs, Briggs said.

Briggs said the food bank typically has between 50 and 75 volunteers at any given time. Most people come in groups, but some come independently.

“It can get pretty crazy,” Briggs said.

Wednesday nights are generally quiet, he said, because people tend to have mid-week church commitments. The largest crowd typically comes on Thursdays.

“It is after church, and they feel inspired to come,” Briggs said.

Attendees of Midway Heights Baptist Church volunteer at the food bank once a month, a tradition that started six or eight years ago, said Pastor David Schawo, who used to be the associate director of the food bank.

As he taped and stacked boxes, Schawo said he sees volunteering as a way the congregation can help people no matter where they are. Through serving, those who have helped have enjoyed fellowship and fun.

As the Midway group filled boxes and slid them down an assembly line, participants of Tweens, a pre-teen ministry at Urban Empowerment, joined them. The two groups worked as one, filling boxes with basic food items: spaghetti noodles, peanut butter, cereal, canned goods, bottled juice and powdered milk.

Jamesha Springer, 8, said she liked “doing the boxes,” making sure they were ready to be filled. She smiled and worked near two of her friends.

“I think it’s cool because you can work so hard and help out,” Jamesha said.

This was Tweens’ second visit to the food bank. Naima-Ra Gianquinto, one of the group leaders, said each of the 20 ministries at Urban Empowerment value community outreach.

“Our mission is to help build the community and help build God’s kingdom,” Gianquinto said.

Briggs said that like the groups that volunteered Tuesday, most are willing to help with anything. A few, however, say they would rather not do certain tasks, such as bag hot dogs. Briggs said he understands, but he wants people to realize that whichever food they are dealing with, it is still food people are going to want and to eat.

“Most of the people that come in, it doesn’t matter,” Briggs said.

Groups or individuals can volunteer at the food bank. Those interested can call (573) 474-1020 and talk to Darren White, who schedules volunteers.

Kevin Weber and Nathaniel McKee, sophomores in the Acacia Fraternity, volunteered at the food bank with five other fraternity members. Although they were up to their forearms in hot dog slime, they had a good time.

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