As I walked out of the old Nortel warehouse in Research Triangle Park this morning I felt something small in my sneaker that was annoying my foot. I shook my Mary Jane style clad foot around and the annoyance disappeared so I kept walking. It was a good quarter mile to my car in the sea of vehicles in the parking lot of the once vibrant, but not shuttered building.
The building had been opened for the Food Bank to use today for our largest volunteer operation ever, The Sort-A-Rama in remembrance of 9/11 and Hunger Action Month. Over a thousand people from such supportive companies as Food Lion, Cisco, Net App, Duke Energy, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Sun Trust, Wells Fargo, Wood Forest Bank, Extreme Networks and more came out early this morning to help bag 200,000 pounds of beans, rice and pasta into family friendly sized bags.
It was the third annual Sort-a-rama and definitely the biggest one yet. The Governor came to help welcome and thank the volunteers on this sad day. At 9:05 the crowd in their corporate volunteer t-shirts, and requisite sort-a-rama ball caps, in keeping with food handling safety guidelines bowed their heads for a moment of silence for our lost Americans on September 11, thirteen years ago. The 400,000 square foot room was so silent you could hear a mouse try and steal a grain of rice, if one had been there.
After the national anthem the troops were off to man the pallet sized boxes of rice and scoop out five cups per bag into smaller plastic bags and after tying them off depositing them into a different pallet sixed box. My job, as past chair of the Food Bank Board was to walk the aisles as groups of five or six volunteers each worked together. I tried not to interrupt the flow of work while I thanked each person for volunteering to spend their morning helping the Food Bank and thus the over 650,000 hungry neighbors we help.
I was overwhelmed with the responses, “Thanks for letting us do this,” “I am honored to help,” “I want to do more,” “Thanks for your service.”
The work these very bright people were doing in no way taxed their brains. Bending over a big crate and scooping up dried beans is not hard, nor is it really fun, but it is humbling. Taking care of those in need often means we need to stop and stoop over and take a moment. No one in that giant room of people was any more important than the other, or the people they ultimately were serving with the food they will be getting from this Sort-a-rama. It was just one neighbor helping another.
When I got to my car after my job was done I took off my shoe to figure out what was annoying my foot. I found a single grain of rice inside my shoe. I decided to leave it there to remind me all day of the hungry people who need help. On this solemn day in our country’s history I hope you had a chance to take a moment and think about what it means to you to be an American. If you are lucky enough to have a good meal on your table tonight give thanks. Not everyone is as lucky.
Twelve years ago everyone over the age of seventeen probably can remember where they were when they first heard the news about the planes flying into the World Trade Center — that unsettling feeling is one that fairly unforgettable. On this anniversary of one of the worst days in our history people across the country are serving many helping organizations as a tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11 and as a way to say to anyone who wants to hurt America, “You may hurt one of us but the rest will stand strong together.”
I had the great honor to serve as the Master of Ceremonies for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina’ Sort-a-rama at the Jim Graham building at the state fair. It was the second year we have done this project and the turn out was stupendous.
The Jim Graham building is where they hold the livestock exhibition during the state fair and if you have never spent much time walking through the maze of 4-H kid’s living with their prize cows you have no idea how big this building is. Empty of farm animals today the Food Bank set up hundreds of pallet sized bins full of dried beans peas and pasta that volunteer sorted into family sized bags for future distribution.
I stood on the stage first thing this morning and looked out at the sea of over 700 corporate volunteers who had paid to come and spend their day packing this food. I was humbled by their excitement and enthusiasm. After I said a few opening remarks we had a color guard from Boy Scout Troop 39 in Chapel Hill bring in the flags and two fantastic women who work at Blue Cross Blue Shield sang the National Anthem.
I got a little teary standing with my right hand on my heart as I thought about what a wonderful country this is listening to our national anthem. Quickly I had to pull myself together because I had to introduce our Governor, Pat McCrory who came out to be part of our day of service. Pastor Jackson from one of our agencies who serves people in need food spoke about how the face of hunger has changed from not just homeless people but the working poor.
Three local corporations were our major sponsors, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cisco and Food Lion. Their leaders each spoke about why they volunteer and give back. By the time all the people said a few words the volunteers were ready to get to the job at hand. The Governor did the first ceremonial scoop of dried yellow peas and the volunteers were off.
While pictures were being taken Mr. McCrory turned to me and said, “You all do great work and if you ever need my help or want to do an event at the Mansion please let me know.” You have got to believe that my wheels are turning now to think of all the ways the Governor can help us help the citizens of his state.
The Governor is right; the staff at the Food Bank is the hardest group of people I know who help hundreds of thousand of our neighbors in need. I was so proud to play a small part of such a vital organization. Thank you to all the generous people who spent sometime today volunteering to help others and especially to those who spend time everyday helping others.