Intern Series: Volunteering in the PRC

(Editor's Note: This is the first in a series from our communications intern, Mollie, as she spends the summer here at ACFB.) 

My name is Mollie, and I’m the summer communications intern at the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB). Originally from Atlanta, I just finished my freshman year at Northwestern University in Illinois, where I am majoring in Journalism and double minoring in History and Gender & Sexuality Studies.

By my second day of work at ACFB, I had already been asked to head down to the warehouse from my cozy cubicle to volunteer at the Product Rescue Center.

I didn't know what to expect. I had never volunteered for the ACFB before, or even for a local food pantry. When I got home from my first day, I scoured the website looking for tips and trying to figure out what was expected of me. The next morning, I showed up at 9 a.m. sharp, ready for PRC volunteer training. As an intern, I was told to dress business casual for work. However, I didn't think that would really go so well for a day of sorting food products. I read on the ACFB website that closed-toed shoes are a must, so I pulled on my best (and only) sneakers.

When I arrived at ACFB, I followed the signs for PRC, and nervously walked into a freshly painted room with a large flat screen TV and rows of chairs. Most of the other volunteers had already arrived, except for a few stragglers. There seemed to be very little in common between everyone, except for the fact that we were all about to spend half our day sorting donated food. There was a variety of ages, since children as young as eight could volunteer. There were individuals, families, and even a group from another company. We all sat down and an employee began speaking to us.

Training was brief, but effective. We learned what could be sorted and packed, and what would have to be put in the "blue shopping cart." Anytime an item didn't fit the given criteria, we had to throw it in the cart (which ended up looking far more like a small dumpster than a shopping cart). After our quick orientation, the volunteers all headed into the PRC section of the warehouse. An employee grabbed me and another volunteer almost immediately and told us we would be on scale duty.

We set up something similar to a production line. The first volunteers built boxes, which were then passed forward to be packed. CVS had made a large donation, which was what we sorted. It didn't end up being food after all! Volunteers sorted items into two categories: Health and Beauty and Miscellaneous. I was surprised I didn’t realize people have needs other than food - things like toothpaste, soap, shampoo and even plastic plates and forks. After items were sorted and put into boxes, the volunteers passed the boxes to us. My job was to make sure each box was within the weight limit, close it up, and label it. Another volunteer then took the boxes from me and stacked them up, ready for shipping.

I turned out to be remarkably bad at taping boxes shut. The tape dispenser refused to do what I told it to, and my first several boxes looked like a three-year-old had gone to town packaging tape. I was working closely with three other volunteers, and we quickly bonded over my inadequacy! Thankfully, I eventually figured it out. We were all having a great time. There's a new sound system in the warehouse, and music was blasting and everyone danced while they worked.

Halfway through our three-hour shift, we all took a break. ACFB provided water and snacks, and then we went back to the first room. We watched a short video about ACFB with interviews from people it had directly helped. It was really powerful to be able to see the direct impact that both ACFB and its volunteers had.

We headed back into the warehouse to keep working. By now, everyone had gotten the hang of things. I received far fewer boxes that were blatantly overweight, which was quite nice. It was a pain to remove products from heavy boxes and then try to find lighter boxes to cram them into. I think it will take me awhile to view the number 23 as anything other than a weight limit again!

The three hours went by quickly. When we were done, we filed back into the training room, and an ACFB employee told us exactly how much we had sorted and packed. It was over 3,000 pounds in just those few hours. Hearing that, and realizing the impact we will have made on another person's life affected me more than I thought it would.

I've volunteered at a variety of places in the past. I've built houses for Habitat for Humanity; I've helped organize a fundraiser for Prevent Child Abuse America, and I've spent many hours working at a therapeutic riding facility. However, at ACFB, just three hours of my time, which otherwise would probably have been spent sleeping, made an enormous difference in other people's lives. That blew me away. I can't wait for the rest of my summer at the Atlanta Community Food Bank and to see what amazing things they continue to do.