28 Apr

Pantry Volunteer Helps Families Think Healthy

Gabriela Sanchez, Food Pantry Volunteer

Gabriela Sanchez, a recent Hunter College graduate, volunteers once a week in the LSA food pantry. She has always had an interest in nutrition and community health — volunteering at local health programs in college as well as various farmers’ markets. She currently works part-time and is a development intern for New York Cares and Slow Food USA where she helps with fundraising and outreach. Despite working and interning, Gabriela still somehow finds time to volunteer.

Having an aunt who worked at LSA for ten years, she thought that volunteering at LSA would be a great way to gain experience post-graduation. Gabriela said volunteering is a great way to obtain valuable work experience and knowledge about the community, as well as learn the inner-workings of an organization. She believes it is a “great stepping stone” for her career and an excellent way to directly contribute to the community. Working in an environment where every employee is “nice, smart and welcoming” encourages her to work harder. “Seeing people at LSA who have worked here for so long is inspiring — it’s great to see the camaraderie here.”

What is the best thing about volunteering at LSA? Gabriela paused and a huge smile covered her face from ear to ear. She responded simply, “It makes me feel really good.” Working at the food pantry every Wednesday, she does the heavy lifting, re-stocking, and often works non-stop for hours. However, she feels rewarded being able to see how many families and people they’ve served.

Although Gabriela only started volunteering in October of 2015, she has already begun two projects with a focus on nutrition and food advocacy. As a pantry volunteer she was able to see firsthand the severity of the nutritional and health issues facing members of the community.

Gabriela saw that clients were interested in learning better eating and shopping habits. She decided to reach out to a local branch of the nationwide program, Cooking Matters at the Store –a federally based program that provides materials and a curriculum to organizations to help them lead their own tours at supermarkets. Gabriela hopes to directly teach people in small groups the best practices and techniques when shopping for food. In these tours, leaders will teach various shopping skills, such as reading nutritional labels or determining the difference between fresh and canned foods. “I basically just want to teach people how to shop so they can get the best monetary and nutritional value.” She led a workshop in March with moms whose children are in the tutoring program. There will be another “Cooking Matters at the Store” workshop in May.

Her second project involves creating recipes using ingredients provided by the food pantry. She became curious as to what people really prepared with the food LSA provided every week. She began doing her own research — buying sandwiches and meals from local restaurants and stores and recreating them using affordable ingredients in her own home. Having little time herself, she believed that she had a good approach and perspective similar to the clients who had little resources and time to create nutritionally sound meals. After working closely with the Advocacy staff, Gabriela is kick starting this new project at LSA. She would like to use the ingredients found in LSA’s own pantry to create recipe cards that include nutritional values.

Gabriela believes the holistic approach has been vital to LSA’s success and is what makes it so successful and distinguishes it from other non-profit organizations. “LSA is a good model for other non-profit organizations” she said. “There should be more trustworthy organizations like LSA that focus on the most marginalized and disadvantaged groups.

Gabriela would like more people to know about LSA. She would like others to know about the  work LSA does, the range of services provided, its importance to the community.  She would like LSA to be known by everyone in New York and beyond, hoping that “when people hear East Harlem, I want them to think LSA and know the great work that they do.”

Story by Julia Correa, Development Special Projects volunteer