By Rachel Zanfardino, FrancisCorps
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. This came easy to me and I enjoyed helping. I also have two brothers, and the three of us couldn’t be more different – but what always seemed to unite us was food. We all liked cooking, baking, experimenting, and most of all, eating. My mom put effort into teaching each of us the basics and eventually expanded 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 my family did.
While discerning my post-college life path, I knew that I wanted to apply for a full-time service program. I learned that FrancisCorps allows you to have a say in your service site placement, which made the program really appealing to me. As someone who utilizes food to bring people together and to spread joy and love, 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 Street lies the beautiful organized chaos of our pantry, a place that helps fill the souls and bellies of many of the people in the neighborhood. These last four months have given me the opportunity to work with local volunteers, to cook and distribute food, to problem solve, to collect donations, to laugh a lot, and to talk with people. As an extroverted person, I have never had difficulty talking to anyone – but I also have never gotten to talk with people quite like this.
From my desk at the pantry, I meet clients coming in eager to nourish their bodies and provide for their families. I begin each conversation with “how are you?” The common reply in the U.S. is pretty confusing when you really think about it, as most people answer with just “good”. With my clients, there is a more intentional response. They are willing to share about their lives with me, and I am interested in sharing their reality with them.
We feed a lot people at Assumption! In fact, 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 rely on outside resources to ensure that they can do the most innate human activity: eat. These numbers shocked me in the beginning of my service. This is partially because it’s such a large number, but also because it has made me reflect on the way that I take food for granted.
There are a few distinct things that I have learned since beginning my service here. Everyone gets hungry: you, your volunteers, your family, your clients, their families, everyone. This hunger has a direct impact on people’s moods and abilities – for example, being “hangry,” that is, hungry and angry at the same time. This affects our ability to work, provide love and affection to our families, or simply function in general. There are some things that food can fix. Food has the ability to bring people together, uniting us over a common necessity. One 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 cannot listen, for instance, when people want to talk about unsafe and unsettled relationships.
I may be helping to feed the people of Syracuse, but they are feeding me right back. They fill my soul with simple joys and nourish my spirit with stories and conversation. My job has reminded me of the importance of showing each person in this world the human dignity that they deserve – and are often denied. Living within 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 knowing and relating.