Friday, January 23, 2009

A little bit of sunshine

A couple of weeks ago we got an email from Michelle Obama, suggesting that all Americans participate in a national volunteer day in honor of Martin Luther King day. There were links to local organizations that need volunteers. Ray and I decided that we don't do enough of that kind of thing, so we selected a food pantry, not far from our house, and signed up to volunteer on Monday.

We found the Sunshine Pantry in a couple of small units on the back side of one of the buildings in a big office park complex. There were a lot of folks there, also responding to the Michelle Obama email. After signing in and sticking nametags on our chests, we met Sharon, the force behind the Sunshine Pantry. What an incredible story. Sharon started more than 25 years ago, with a Cub Scout troop project to put together food packages for 6 needy families at Christmas time. Seeing the need, she continued the project and expanded it and for many years the pantry resided in her garage in a residential neighborhood. (In fact, we discovered, just around the corner from my daughter Emily's house.) Just last year she was able to move to the warehouses in the office park. Here's Sharon.

She's a small woman with a big voice (and obviously big heart). She showed us around the aisles of donated refrigerators and freezers full of fresh and frozen food, including decorated birthday cakes for children. (She provides everything for a birthday party, including paper plates, napkins, candy, decorations, etc.—all donated) There are aisles filled with canned goods, cleaning products and health and hygiene items. In the second building there is backstock as well as clothing, toys and household items. There were people standing patiently in a line with totebags and laundry baskets, waiting their turn to "shop". At one point a van pulled up and we all helped unload cases of canned goods. We learned that it was a woman who enjoys filling her van once or twice a year and making a surprise delivery to the pantry. Sharon greeted her with a big hug and profuse thanks.

Sharon was thrilled, but unprepared for all the volunteers and for a few moments I wondered what on earth good we could be, but she quickly put us all to work. It seemed that she and her core volunteers had not been able to keep up with the donations of things other than food and there were boxes and bags of donated items piled in the back of the warehouse. We pulled everything out onto the strip of grass alongside the parking lot and began sorting donations into piles of like items. Within a few hours we were able to put everything back, but organized and relatively visible.

Sharon's good humor never wavered and I believe she got around to thank each volunteer personally—she thanked me twice. We promised her we'd be back. Remarkable woman.

Added: In the comments Miles said he did not get the email from Michelle Obama and asked for a link to the information. You can find it here.


  1. What a great job the new First Lady is doing already now! I wish we had something like this in Germany. I have the time and the power to do some volunteering, but no opportunity! All our institutions are glad to be left alone. The government don't communicate directly with the people. We are covered by a veil of selfish ignorance and disinterest, arduously supported by the media who are busy with the most stupid shows and dramatizing some side effects of the crisis, never looking at the core of things. Yet, some of the citizens are full of good will and show generosity. We are lacking personalities who can raise enthusiasm and common response.

  2. Great job - and doesn't it feel good to help others. We need more volunteers like you.

  3. I am so proud of you! I did lots of volunteer work for years, and now that C is retired, I've settled into a home routine and I let him do the volunteering. He is good at it, and I enjoy the time alone at home!

    We saw Slumdog last night: I have had a love/hate relationship with it. I hate violence, and it about sent me over the edge a few times. I have to agree that it was very good, and I sat waiting to see what would happen next. While I know the violence was necessary, it was difficult to view. Thanks for encouraging me to see it.


  4. People like Sharon always lift the soul. We all need to strive to be more like her.

  5. What a heartwarming story. Good for you and Ray and massive kudos to Sharon!!

  6. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story! As with some European countries that require service in their armed forces, so should our country require volunteer service. Imagine the impact of every able-bodied person in the US giving just a couple hours every month to a cause of their choosing.
    Just a thought!
    Hey, how about a link to the M. Obama thing you mentioned- I miseed out on that e-mail (sad face).
    Take Care!!!!!


  7. Oh, I've read about Sharon and her efforts in the Oregonian. She's clearly making a difference in a very direct way. Good for you and Ray for helping out.

  8. I always feel such a kinship with people like Sharon. My partner, Sally, has been doing this for 35 years. She's 70+, double mastectomy survivor and a wonder to me.
    The Pantry is so small-really just the size of a small basement-and we only have room for one fridge and a tiny freezer that was donated. I'm exhausted just trying to take care of 150 families. I can't imagine the work that Sharon must have to do. God Bless her & everyone who helps.