Hello! My name is Roger Masson, and I am 20 years old. I am a student at FIU studying International Relations. Given my major, the classes I take are typically limited to politics and history—subjects that genuinely fascinate me. However, with this class, I uncovered a different side of myself— appreciating art, nature, and the joy of giving back to the community. I have grown to understand the vibrant culture and uniqueness of the city that I am privileged enough to call home!
This semester, I registered for the opportunity to volunteer with the Salvation Army, an organization that has truly impacted this world in an inspirational way! Raquel Alvarez, the individual in charge of the food pantry, informed me of the detailed history of the organization that she so proudly works for. The Salvation Army began in England and made its way over to the United States in the 19th Century, with a religious background aimed at helping those in need. In our community, there are numerous branches of the Salvation Army. Some take on the labor of rehabilitation with the profit earned from the Thrift Shops, and others are shelters for the homeless, as was the case of the particular branch I worked with during this time. During my volunteer hours, I helped at the Salvation Army Miami Area Command Branch, located in Allapattah.
Doing part to combat malnutrition in my community was a significant driving factor in selecting this opportunity to volunteer with the food pantry. Due to the COVID-19, many people in Miami and worldwide are enduring a harsh situation, financially—significantly impacting food access. I hope to continue working with the Salvation Army and its mission to provide aliments to those in need, alleviating a massive burden in this respect. Last semester, I was interested in taking part in an opportunity of this nature; however, I was nervous about the close contact with others that is part of the volunteer experience at a food pantry, particularly given that my grandmother lives at home with me. Thankfully, she received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and I could volunteer with more ease.
During my search to find an organization to volunteer, my close friend and classmate, Kathalinna, recommended the website Hands on Miami, which guided me towards the volunteer opportunity with the Salvation Army. This website outlines the dates available for each organization via the “opportunities calendar.” Below, I attached the link to this phenomenal resource.
WHERE & WHAT
April 20, 2021, Food Pantry—Preparation Day: 1:00 P.M. -3:30 P.M shift
I arrived at the Salvation Army at 12:30 for my shift at 1:00, and as soon as I met with Raquel, I was put right to work. My mission was set out for me: fill as many bags as possible with ten items to hand out in the morning of April 21, 2021. This left me with little time to take photos due to the time-sensitive task at hand. As I was starting to get the hang of this process, Carlos, a frequent volunteer, arrived to help. Between the two of us, we put together 50 paper bags with ten items of food. In each bag, we placed one can of tomato sauce, black beans, green beans, apple sauce, a can of mixed fruits, a bag of pinto beans, a container of oatmeal, a can of chicken soup, one box of Pop-Tarts, and a box of pasta. The picture below illustrates the result: two shopping carts with 25 bags in each, ready for distribution in the morning.
After completing this task, Carlos and I began our next duty: moving what seemed like a thousand boxes of expired vegetables. Safely disposing of these boxes was crucial given that the vegetables were in the way and impeded one’s access to specific items. Furthermore, the containers were leaking a liquid conducive to causing a slipping accident. Below, I was able to capture images of some of the boxes before and after being discard.
After completing this task, we picked up the area that we worked in and packed it up for the day.
April 21, 2021, Food Pantry— Distribution and Preparation Day: 8:00 A.M. to 3:30 P.M. Shift:
On this day, I got a bright and early start. Once I walked in, I started working to make the distribution of food a success. Today was bitter-sweet since I was all alone, but it brought me great joy to assist Raquel with such an important task, knowing that my work played a vital role in this operation. First, I was in charge of moving the carts with the paper bags that Carlos and I prepared the day before to the distribution location. Then, it was time to transport the refrigerated items, such as the butter, the chicken, cucumbers, and blueberries, to this site to place them in the respective bags. After arranging each item on the designated tables, I was ready to let the public come in, five at a time. Part of my responsibility was to make sure that only five people pass and comply with the social distancing measures and mask mandates. Additionally, I handed each individual one bag and gave them one chicken. I did this from 9:00-12:00.
After lunch, I handled the same process as the day prior. I prepared the paper bags for Thursday’s distribution. This time, I was not accompanied by Carlos and his help, so it was a bit more time-consuming. Nevertheless, I completed two carts with 25 bags in each and left things intact for the next day.
Volunteering with the food pantry at the Salvation Army is, without a doubt in the world, one of the most enriching experiences of my life. It is one thing to want to make a difference and another to take the initiative to make it happen. Given the economic situation and the level of unemployment due to the pandemic, operations such as this are fundamental to combat hunger in our community. During this project, I witnessed first-hand just how significant an impact an endeavor like this one has on other’s lives. A rather poignant moment of this voluntary experience was when a gentleman confided in me enough to say that he had been praying for the way to bring food to his house, and thanks to the Salvation Army’s Food Pantry, his prayers were answered. More than everything, I am thankful that this assignment led me to this opportunity. At times, it is easy to make excuses that time can get in the way of volunteering, but there is so much room to help, and even a few hours can have such an impact on the community. I plan to continue working with this Food Pantry and setting aside time to give back to those around me.