Winter 2009: talking with our volunteers

Volunteer Angela Dow outside the pantry.

Volunteer Angela Dow outside the pantry.

As many as sixty volunteers run The Food Pantry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Most are people who came to get food and stayed to help out; some are neighbors, and some are first-time visitors. Every one of them has a story, and together they create a living, growing community. This issue’s interview is with volunteer Angela Dow.

Two years ago, I saw a picture of The Food Pantry on Craigslist, and it said volunteers could just show up. I got to the church early and saw this woman, Nirmala, standing inside a giant bread bin, unloading loaves. I couldn’t even see all of her, but she called out, “Come on in, and give me a hand!”

I came here from Hong Kong when I was twelve. I didn’t know my mother; I was raised by my grandmother and nannies. My grandmother was a Christian, and she always said you have to help people who have less than you, especially the elderly. Old people aren’t useless and ugly, she taught us, you need to learn to do right and respect them.

I worked at the phone company here for 27 years. And when I retired I wanted to find some way to give back the blessings I’ve received. My husband is good to me, we have property, we have a surplus. So I did tutoring with newcomer kids, I tried to help in a hospital, I helped renters with legal problems. But The Food Pantry is a place where I learn so much.

One holiday, The Food Pantry had a dinner for the volunteers, and Sara just said, “If people need food, that’s what we’re here for.” That really made me think. I realized I can’t pick and choose who I want to help. People didn’t ask to be poor. They didn’t ask to be sick. Sure, there are some cheaters and liars, and I get angry about it, but overall people are good. A few of the volunteers have [criminal] records, but when we work together they’re gentlemen. They work as hard as me. Who am I to judge? I learn to respect everyone: these two men got married and we blessed them at the pantry. Now I think, if somebody finds a person who makes them happy, that’s God’s wish for them: who am I to judge? Working together you see that all people have something to offer.

So I arrange my schedule around The Food Pantry. On Fridays I’m there to do whatever needs doing. During the week I work on getting donations for the pantry. I went to a young friend of my nephew’s who runs a big Italian bakery, and asked him to help us. He laughed and said, “OK, auntie,” and let me pick the bread up twice a week in my car. A lot of people only worry about making money, but he knew that everybody has to give something. Because at the end of the day, really, it’s a big accomplishment what we do. And it takes all of us.

Leave a Reply