October 10, 2016

The Child Hunger Corps is a national service program designed to increase the capacity and capability of food banks to execute programs targeted towards the alleviation of child hunger. The objective of the program is to increase the number of nutritious snacks and meals served to children in need in local communities around the country. The Child Hunger Corps initiative is sponsored by the ConAgra Foods Foundation.

In August 2016, the sixth cohort of ten new Corps members were placed at Feeding America member food banks, bringing the current total to 40 Child Hunger Corps members working at food banks across the country. This post is by sixth cohort member Eileen Emerson, Child Hunger Corps member at Blue Ridge Area Food Bank in Verona, VA.

Six weeks ago, I pulled up in front of my new apartment in Virginia, my car crammed with boxes and a chair I'd picked up at a flea market (yellow with green floral print, indeterminate age, possibly haunted). For the first time in my life, I was moving myself in, with no one to even take me out to dinner after I'd hauled everything inside.

I was moving from DC, where I spent four years going to school and building community. I grew to love it, but I knew I wouldn’t stay. My real passion lay in poverty alleviation in rural areas and local- and state-level public policy, and much of what I studied in college was preparing me for this type of career. After graduation, the trick would be finding a job that matched these qualifications.

Then the Child Hunger Corps job posting came along. Poverty alleviation: check. Ability to work with, not just for, communities: check. Entry-level job with a lot of challenges and responsibility, but in a structured format so I wouldn't be drowning (or at least not by myself; thanks, Cohort 6): check. Ten food banks were selected this year to host Corps members, and most of the food banks on the list appeared to serve the rural populations I knew from experience could easily be overlooked.  

So I liked the job description from the get-go; after my interview with Blue Ridge Area Food Bank (BRAFB) I was in love. BRAFB looked great on paper—strategic plan, willingness to try new things, a large service area with a mix of urban and rural communities—but, more importantly, it felt right. (One of the interview questions my supervisors asked me was about what I would do with a Harry Potter-style wand if I had one. I'd been waiting the entirety of my life for someone to ask me that question.)

I got the job. I moved to Virginia, and started work. And, in my first few weeks, there's been so much information (I could have written a blog post about acronyms, so you're welcome), so many people to meet, so many things to take in, I feel like I'm running as fast as I can, but still just a bit too slow. That joy and excitement and readiness I had after my interview wasn't gone, exactly, but it was getting smothered by something approaching panic.

Then last week happened. Last week, I got to attend a Bridges Out of Poverty meeting, where community members meet to talk about what opportunities in their community look like now, what they want them to look like in the future, and make 90-day action plans to move themselves towards that future. I was also able to work a Mobile Food Pantry (MFP), where the food bank delivers a truck full of food to a rural area with limited access to traditional pantries and grocery stores. I got to be around the people I'm working with, got to know the MFP site coordinator as we bagged carrots, got to talk to the people we serve and volunteers, got to put faces to names, got to get my hands dirty (literally) and got to talk about people's experiences as individuals instead of as numbers on a spreadsheet. 

Those interactions were everything I could ever ask for from a job—there is something uniquely incredible about getting to work both behind the scenes doing research and discussing program models, and then helping put that behind-the-scenes work into action alongside the people who inspired and guided that work in the first place. They’re interactions that, much like the mountains surrounding the valley I now call home, I doubt will ever make me feel anything short of wonder.

It was at the MFP that I first felt like I might be running with the pack. But the most important part of that realization wasn’t that I could keep up; it was that I realized I have a pack.  So, on those days when I do, inevitably, get out of breath, I’m not going to get left behind; I have neighbors and colleagues who will toss me a bottle of water, shout encouragements or just drop back to jog in silence alongside me. 

So, for now, my apartment may still feel a little lonely (former owner of my potentially-haunted chair aside). I may still occasionally feel overwhelmed by the things I don't yet know about my service area, and the work still to be done. But last week reminded me that, every day, I'm doing "good work with good people."  

Last week reminded me I've found a place to stay.

Tags: Fighting Hunger in Action , About Us , Virginia , Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, Inc. , Conagra Brands and the Conagra Brands Foundation

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