Nancy Stevens spends every Thursday with her local Glenside, Pennsylvania, food pantry, Family Promise Food Pantry, to help meet the most basic needs of providing food and health to her community. In August of 2020, the 78-year-old began giving back as an intake volunteer who helps each client get food or personal care from the pantry. Nancy also helped open a community library across the street from the food pantry and connects pantry staff with translation resources in order to translate intake documents for non-English speaking clients.
Outside of the food pantry, Nancy helps her church apply for grants on behalf of the Food Pantry Summer Snacks for Kids program at her church.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I started volunteering when I was 16 years old in high school. I was a candy striper at our local hospital; that was a long time ago. I don’t know whether they even have candy stripers anymore, but we delivered food trays to patients, helped transport patients down for X-rays and other important stuff like that. I don’t think hospitals dare let teenagers do that now. I did that for about two or three years, and then, after I graduated high school, I was an adult volunteer in the evenings at the hospital. We carted around different juices to the patients that were on specific diets. It was wonderful, I really liked it.
I grew up and got married and didn’t have a whole lot of time to do in-person volunteer things, so I eventually volunteered at a suicide prevention center and did that for several years while my husband was in college. That’s basically how my volunteerism all started.
Tell us about your volunteer roles with Family Promise Food Pantry and Food Pantry Summer Snacks for Kids at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
I started working at the Family Promise Food Pantry in 2020. I saw a post on Facebook about promoting the food pantry. I contacted them and asked what they needed — they said volunteers. They desperately needed volunteers since people who had been volunteering were burned out from the intensity of the pandemic. I’ve volunteered on Thursdays since.
With Summer Snacks for Kids, my church offers members the chance to use grants to apply for different opportunities that would help our church community. I’ve applied for grants for as long as the program has been in existence. I asked them a couple of years ago if I could pursue a grant for $1,000 in laundry detergent because that’s something that people at the Food Pantry always ask for and they can’t get it with food stamps at the grocery store. And I received the grant. And this summer I asked the director of the program what she wanted me to apply for, and she said that since the kids are out of school for the summer, we should focus on providing free lunches, breakfasts and snack bags to give to families over the summer.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
I think knowing that we’re helping to meet the most basic need. People can’t do anything else if they’re hungry.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
Things aren’t always what they seem. One time we had someone pull up to the food pantry in a BMW, and a few of us looked at each other like what’s going on here. It turned out that this family had been living close to the edge for a while, and then somebody lost a job. So, that was very surprising and eye opening.
Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?
Yes, in fact my girlfriend was just asking me about this the other day. She just retired and is on the verge of volunteering. She wanted to volunteer with a specific organization really bad, and they told her they didn’t need volunteers that month. Now she doesn’t know where to go. I told her that I couldn’t tell her exactly what to do or where to go; you must discover for yourself what it’s going to be. It has to meet one of your basic principles. She wanted to take care of animals, and that’s a great thing, but now she has to discover if there’s another way or shift entirely.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Any place that I’ve ever volunteered and anyone that I’ve ever served has always told me thank you, and they had no idea that it really should have been me saying thank you to them because helping just feels so good.
Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.
I’ll continue volunteering and doing the work I do at the food pantry on Thursdays. None of us really knew each other before we started working there, and we all became a really solid group of friends at this point. So, I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Nancy? Find local volunteer opportunities.