Bilingual Volunteer Helps Translate and Comfort Spanish-Speaking Food Pantry Clients

Daily Point of Light # 7796 Apr 23, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Blanca Marroquin Choate. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Blanca Marroquin Choate was initially hesitant to start volunteering on the weekends in her Medway, Massachusetts, town. I should protect my down time, she thought. But after showing up to one volunteer session at the Medway Village Food Pantry, her life was changed. She fell in love with the organization’s mission of ending hunger and connecting with its clients, and since March of 2022, Blanca has gladly given up her Saturdays to be a bilingual volunteer to help translate and comfort Spanish-speaking clients.

Blanca has helped move over 750 pounds of fresh produce and 2,700 pounds of shelf-stable foods to the pantry last year on behalf of her church. She hopes that using her native language will inspire others to get involved with the food pantry, to believe that small acts create bigger acts of kindness and that you don’t have to contribute largely to make an impact.

What inspires you to volunteer?

I started in March of 2022. I actually started because my friend Michelle had mentioned that the pantry needed bilingual volunteers. My native language is Spanish, although throughout the years it’s sort of become my second language. I am in Massachusetts now, but I’m actually from Texas where I was born and raised. My family is from Mexico — they’re mostly immigrants from Mexico – so Massachusetts was very far away from home, far away from my culture and my language. It was sort of a way to get back to those roots, be able to use my language again and help others in the process of coming from different emigrant areas and not having the ability to communicate as easily. I could understand how scary and difficult that must be to be away from families and be in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language or understand the people around you.

Volunteering became the bridge between that. The funny thing is that when she first approached, I was hesitant only because I was in my own lifestyle and I had a plan of doing certain things on my Saturday mornings. I thought, maybe I can’t give that up yet. But I decided to volunteer for like an hour here and there and after my first day, I completely fell in love. I didn’t want to leave and I didn’t want it to end. I was so happy to even stay for cleanup I loved it so much. It was such a different experience. I thought it would be laborious at all times but it actually brought enrichment to my house and to our family.

Since then, I have been a volunteer every Saturday unless there’s a family obligation. For the most part, I’m out there every Saturday. I look forward to my Saturday mornings with the food pantry. It was just bigger than I thought it would be; bigger than me and it just took a complete hold on me. I really love it and I love seeing the clients and connecting with them.

Blanca Marroquin Choate gladly gives up her Saturdays to be a bilingual volunteer at the Medway Village Food Pantry to translate and comfort Spanish-speaking clients.

Tell us about your volunteer role with the Medway Village Food Pantry.

It’s a two-part role. In the summer of 2022, our parish started a garden of producing fresh vegetables and fruits that we can harvest and donate. The point was for us to donate 50% of our proceeds to someone in need in our community. I help harvest some of that. Again, I didn’t know anything about growing vegetables or fruit, but I had to learn through this process. I started organizing with another woman who actually is the coordinator of our garden to help harvest, clean and bring that produce to the pantry. On Friday afternoons, we wash and clean all that produce and I come and drop it off at the food pantries. Then we prepare for Saturday.

Our pantry is shared with a church and a preschool in a basement, so we have to wait until the preschool is done before we have access to the pantry. Various volunteers come in and I come in to drop off the cleaned, washed and organized produce for them to sort and put out for Saturday morning volunteers and clients. I do that weekly during summertime. We also started non-perishable donations at our church. After the season has ended with our garden, then we bring in non-perishables that we just kept the whole year. I bring that as well with me on Friday shifts. I stay and help them sort through anything that could be expired or needs to be thrown away.

On Saturdays, I come in and I’m either a greeter to help greet clients or just fill whatever the needs are of the day at the pantry. Now my role has been registering new clients and helping them with the language barrier and understanding our process, our policies and making them feel welcome and understood.

They start with stations, usually with the non-perishables, then clients can choose what they like and they basically point because we don’t always have bilingual volunteers at every station — it’s just me and another woman who help at the front to greet and register in Spanish. But if they absolutely cannot get through the communication barrier, then I stand next to them and I help them through each station and help them choose what they need. The most difficult part for them is the non-perishable section because it’s a closet of items and they can’t always see clearly and the labels are in English. We’ve tried to label some of those in Spanish for them to understand, but my job is to reassure them and make them feel welcome and take them through the process from start to finish. Once they’ve gone through the initial process, they become more comfortable every week to come in and they know what to do. It doesn’t take very long to catch on.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

I think connecting with a client on a personal level. That hesitancy, awkwardness or feeling of being less than initially surfaces — you’re going through financial hardships, and that’s very difficult for someone to endure — but it does go away. I think the most rewarding part for me has been being able to connect and remove those hesitations from them and they come into our pantry and feel welcome. It’s been rewarding and impactful for me too because I’m able to reconnect with my language. Sometimes it seems kind of distant now that I’m living in a different state, but I can be of help at the pantry and it’s rewarding.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

The high needs in our community. We live our very busy lives and can be distracted. We forget that there’s other people that are in a disadvantaged position, whether financially, physically or emotionally. It has helped me be aware and more cognizant of those things and the blessings that I have in my own home with my own family.

Do you have any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

I’d say not to be afraid of those unknowns of what’s to come. I know there’s fear around what you’re going to see and what you’re going to hear. Am I going to be uncomfortable with someone else’s situation? Will seeing faces that I normally do not see of other cultures or lifestyles be hard? I think it’s just that we all have a will and desire to be of help to others. We just think we don’t know how to do it. But it’s just about taking the time to find out what is needed in your community; what is needed in your town and connecting with them as a start. Being involved really can change your own life.

Do you have a favorite memory from volunteering with the Medway Village Food Pantry?

Every year, they choose one of our families in need for Christmas gifts. We provide Christmas gifts for our clients through donations from the community, but then we choose a special family who can request specific gifts as opposed to just coming into the pantry and choosing what’s available to them. A donor will come in and say that they’d like to host a family. This past Christmas, a family that was chosen was one of our recurring clients — a young mother and husband who I’ve never met, but they have two small children. I was chosen to help deliver this message to her in her language and also retrieve any specific items that her family might need. There was hesitancy from her, even though we were able to communicate, but I was able to communicate with her in her language and culture because we come from the same backgrounds. She was just so blown away by the help that she already received from our pantry that she didn’t feel like she needed anything, this was enough.

The purity of her heart and her feeling already blessed with what she has, and still being at a disadvantage financially, she said she had more than enough. After a few conversations with her, she finally came around and gave us some specifics of what she needed. We were able to get specific sizes and colors and all things that are her favorite. The time came to deliver, and one of the items was a crib for her baby and she came in and she was just floored by the fact that she got more than what she askedfor. She was just so happy, and it was very rewarding for us and for me to see her and help her collect her things. I was able to connect with her physically and hug her, and she was just so thankful and grateful. That was one of my highlights at the pantry so far.

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.

All of our big events have already passed, but I’m just excited to be there every Saturday. We’ve had such an increase at our pantry this last year and a half that I’m excited to be there and help relieve some of that growth. I like being of help and of use, so I look forward to that. I also look forward to having others be inspired by the work that’s been done there, not just by me but everyone that is here. We all come from different backgrounds, lifestyles, cultures, mindsets and languages, so we all get to come together and unite to give a hand to those in need in our community.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Blanca? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Madi Donham