Saturdays begin at 5 a.m. for 16-year-old Henry Morse, and he has no plans on changing his alarm clock. The New Orleans teen found Culture Aid NOLA – a food distribution nonprofit – with his mother in the Spring of 2020 and never stopped volunteering. Community means the world to this high school sophomore, and he believes that people helping people can change the world.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Morse kept himself very busy. Theatre and sports filled his time outside of school, but he soon found himself with nothing to do in March of 2020. His mom started volunteering once a week and Morse quickly followed suit. “It just kind of grew into a passion,” Morse said, “I got to see the same people week after week and developed relationships with the volunteers.”
Morse began as a traditional food distribution volunteer but was given more responsibility as he spent multiple days a week with the organization. Now the teen manages other volunteers and ensures that food operations run smoothly. He takes inventory of daily food deliveries and decides how much should be given out to the plethora of families that visit each day. Morse also leads volunteer orientations and operations for Culture Aid NOLA in addition to piloting outreach programs at local high schools to recruit volunteers and spread the word of the organization’s impact.
“What inspires me are the looks of the faces of the people that drive through our food lines,” Morse said. “There’s just nothing else in the world that compares to that. I’m not doing a huge part, but I’m going a little part in trying to make these people’s lives easier.”
Culture Aid NOLA was created in March of 2020 to combat food insecurity heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since it was created in response to the pandemic, its operations and schedule didn’t have to shift – it was built to ensure social distancing and safety. Through a collaborative approach to food distribution with local New Orleans partners and restaurants, it puts food and resources directly into the hands that need them. It’s given more than 450,000 pounds of food out since the beginning of the pandemic.
The nonprofit receives food donations and purchases produce. Volunteers then pack the food and deliver it directly to people’s cars at their distribution facility. One unique aspect of Culture Aid NOLA is that there are no requirements for people in need to receive food, and Morse said it’s a big deal for locals that are undocumented or turned away from other facilities.
Building meaningful relationships with the people who need the organization is important to Morse. “I know almost all of their names, and one lady comes and picks up food for her neighborhood because most of the people around here don’t have a car,” he said.
“Food insecurity is always a problem in New Orleans, and almost all of the people that come through our line are 100% reliant on us to feed their family for the rest of the week,” Morse added.
Volunteers like Morse make everyday a celebration at Culture Aid NOLA. There’s constant music, a weekly DJ, and an endless supply of dancing – what Morse calls a New Orleans twist on volunteering.
Morse also believes that it’s important to break free of comfort zones sometimes. “I live in a bubble of sorts – I go to a good school and hang out with mostly white privileged kids – and this past year opened my eyes,” he said.
“I also think it’s important for young people to volunteer because as a young person you’re on this track – you have to go to school, get good grades, and go to college – but volunteering makes you realize that there’s just so much more to life than that straight line.”
With two years left of high school, Morse is excited for the consistency of waking up at 5 a.m. every Saturday. He wants to volunteer as long as he can and has dreams of starting his own food-related nonprofit in the future.
“If everyone can just all come together and help each other out, the world is going to be a better place,” Morse said.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Henry? Find local volunteer opportunities.