Talking With Our Volunteers ~ Fall 2011
More than fifty 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 Mel Raymond.
I grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania. My dad was a volunteering type of guy. I was even a Boy Scout. Never made Eagle, though: I got into music instead. Our family church was Zion Baptist, where I picked up the drums. The best song we did in church was “Bye and Bye,” my grandmother’s favorite. She’d stomp and clap when we sang that hymn, it made her so happy.
My brother was a DJ when he was in high school. He had a lot of equipment, and would always warn me, “Don’t touch it!” But I’d figure out how to unlock his stuff and hook it all up. We were into the hip-hop scene––old-school stuff. My mother hated it. “Turn that rap crap off!” she’d say.
Right after college I was working a temp job and met two guys who also liked hip-hop. We had the same
mindset, the same sense of beats, and started up a little studio in North Philadelphia. It was pretty much a dump. We just had a room with a keyboard, a mic and some software, and the three of us formed a production company making music for local artists.
In 2007 I moved to Phoenix to make music with my friend Raheem. We did a lot of writing and touring, and I found a job in a software company. But I got laid off, and my brother told me to come to the Bay Area. I got work with a software company in San Francisco, and then they laid me off, too.
Two weeks later I was trying to figure out what I should do. I saw the “volunteers wanted” ad for The Food Pantry and it seemed like a good way to pass time. I show up, and the first person I see is Angela, this lady with a big smile, she’s talking fast: “Hello, what’s your name, how are you, are you here to volunteer, that’s great, do you want something to eat, wonderful, wonderful…” Everyone else was really welcoming, too, and from then on it was a wrap.
In Philadelphia, there were all these different social groups, and they were closed off. In San Francisco people pretty much keep to themselves. I just never experienced the diversity of anything like The Food Pantry. I mean, I’m a black guy from the East Coast, and here I’m friends with someone from Argentina, and Chile, and England, and China, and all over. I’ve never had a negative experience. We take care of each other: really, this place is my family.
Sometimes I’d see a few people come for food who I thought. hey, are you just here to work the system? But the more I was around, I understood the philosophy we have: “All are welcome.” Because if you have a great spirit, if you welcome everyone, things just go the way they should.
I like to work outside with Eduardo and my three elderly Chinese ladies who translate. I call them my girlfriends. You really get to know the families who come to the pantry. The older and disabled folks have opened up to me. I’ve learned so much about all their lives, and I enjoy making sure they’re getting what they need. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to tell them I’m leaving.
Because the hard thing is I’m moving back to Phoenix. I’m going to work with my music partner––his career’s opening up, and he has a place for me. We’re planning a trip to Japan, and some touring inside the country. But I miss it here already.
You really can’t describe in words the spirit of volunteering and fellowship at The Food Pantry. Going through this experience together, you get a more wide-open view: a wider appreciation for humanity and the goodness of humanity.