By: Laura Huenneke
For the past few months, teams of volunteers from the Coconino County Democrats have been serving dinner once a month at the Flagstaff Family Food Center. I joined the team a few weeks back – it’s a fantastic way of connecting with our community.
A volunteer shift begins at 3 p.m., checking in with staff and receiving an orientation. The Center feeds hundreds of people in the dining room each evening, but also distributes takeout meals to scores or hundreds more. Preparations begin with organizing the service line area for the dining room. Meanwhile others are prepping dozens of meals (and the supplies for a couple of hundred more) near the takeout window. Those of us volunteering for the first time were welcomed warmly by the “regulars” on site. These generous volunteers are enthusiastic, knowledgeable, efficient, and encouraging.
I was stationed in the takeout area. We filled some warming cabinets with meals ahead of opening time, and set up big stacks of plastic bags, takeout containers, fruit, bottled drinks, and utensils. Peeking outside every once in a while, we saw a crowd forming. At last, the countdown ended, and dining room door and takeout window opened for business!
I can’t speak to the indoor serving line and dining room atmosphere – we were far too busy in the takeout area. The team quickly fell into the routine – one volunteer dishing the hot meal items into containers, another bagging containers and drinks, another adding fruit or utensils if requested. Meanwhile at the window a greeter welcomed each visitor and asked how many meals they were seeking.
The atmosphere, both inside and outside the window, was upbeat and friendly. Those picking up meals represented a wide spectrum of community members. We saw groups of construction workers stopping by for a hot meal after a long day; young mothers with small children in tow; and seniors picking up a meal while visiting with each other. One “customer” was a woman traveling through town, temporarily stranded by a vehicle breakdown.
Before we knew it, the serving time had raced by and the dining room and takeout line closed. Staff and volunteers swiftly cleaned up, sweeping floors and wiping tables, returning fruit to the coolers, prepping bags and containers for the next meal.
We send a team of six volunteers to help serve dinner, the first Thursday of each month. This isn’t just a feel-good service effort – it’s a great inside look at one of the high-impact non-profits in Flagstaff, and a good way of connecting with community members that we too often fail to see. Plus it is fun!
Sign up at Family Food Center – I hope to see you on another shift soon!