From the Field this month features essays from two Connecticut Food Bank and Foodshare staff members who share a glimpse of what resonates for them in their work. Our contributors this month are Huwerl Thornton and Vinh Vuong.
by Huwerl Thornton, Jr. , M. Ed., Regional Partnership Coordinator
In eight years at the food bank, I have worked with nearly every program or service that we have offered: the mobile pantry; our GROW truck, providing food and educational information to households with young children; the Commodity Supplemental Food Program; Kids’ Backpack; and School Pantries. I am currently a regional coordinator for New London County, working with the wonderful partner agencies in Southeast Connecticut.
I’ve met some wonderful people in my work and have learned that what we do impacts the lives of people in ways that we cannot even imagine. I feel fortunate to have talked with so many families that have directly benefitted from our services. I have so many stories to share, but I immediately think of Sandra, who was a regular visitor at our mobile pantry in Ridgefield.
I looked forward to the second Friday of every month so I could see my buddy. Sandra was in her late 70s and had difficulty remembering certain things. Every month, when I saw Sandra, she would have a big smile on her face, and she would ask me my name and if I was from Trinidad. She asked that question every month for about three years! She said that I looked like her family members and her family was originally from Trinidad.
As time went on, I would joke with her son Ramón that his mom was my buddy and I had to look out for her. I would carry her food from the truck to her car and I would look forward to the next month when I got to see her again and chat with her. Sandra had the most loving and kind spirit and I treated her like she was my grandmother. Then one month she wasn’t there. Another two months passed and I asked the site coordinator what happened to my friend as I hadn’t seen her or her son. My hope was that the family was in a much better position and did not need the services of the mobile pantry.
Sadly, I learned that Sandra had died in an apartment fire. I felt like someone dropped a piano on me. As fate would have it, her son Ramón came to the distribution that day. I immediately pulled him aside and told him how sorry I was to hear about his mom and ask if there was anything I could do. He assured me that he was doing the best he could, and he really missed his mother. He then excused himself, went to his car, and came back with a small porcelain angel, which he gave to me. I tried in vain to give it back to him. Ramón told me his mother always said that I was her angel, and he knew that she would want me to have it for how I looked out for her over the years. I could see the soot on the angel as it was one of the few possessions that survived the fire. We hugged and cried, and I was deeply moved by this expression of kindness. Though his mother could never remember my name, nor could she remember that I was from Georgia and not Trinidad, she remembered how I made her feel. I think often of the quote by Maya Angelou “…people may forget what you said, people may forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Sandra’s angel sits on my desk as a daily reminder to me that no matter how bad or how hectic or how tiring the day can be, what we do matters, and it makes a difference in the lives of the people we serve. What we do is more than just food and it is worth every second we spend at the food bank. Let’s be an earthly angel to the people we serve. Let’s do all that we can so when people leave our presence, they feel warm, they feel respected and most importantly, they feel loved.
Never Forget Where You Started
by Vinh Vuong, Partner Programs Coordinator
I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to our partners, programs, and the volunteers for their ongoing dedication to the community. It has been truly inspirational to me. Connecticut Food Bank and Foodshare would not be where we are without these relationships. The pandemic has clearly shown how the resilience and commitment of our network.
My own experience growing up in a low-income household has been a driving force behind my dedication to this work. I consider it my duty to ensure that people throughout Connecticut can connect with the resources that would have been so beneficial to my own family.
Here are some of the rules that guide me when working with agencies:
One of my passion projects has been to increase access to resources at college campuses throughout the state. I was thrilled to establish a relationship with Storrs Congregational Church, located on the UConn campus. The outcome of this partnership was the creation of a food pantry, increasing resources available to students within the community. I have no doubt that this partnership help address the need on campus and the surrounding community.
Another guiding principle is to never forget where you started. While I do not manage mobile distributions anymore, this picture is from the first ever mobile site that I helped launch in October of 2012. It brings me so much joy that they are still going strong.