by Barbara Loos
From the Editor: Barbara Loos is a longtime leader in the NFB of Nebraska. For several years she was part of AmeriCorps, working with blind people in Lincoln, Nebraska. Each quarter she was asked to submit an interesting story arising from her AmeriCorps activities. Here is one of those stories:
As an AmeriCorps member, I have had two opportunities to participate in Kids Against Hunger, a project which provides balanced meals to malnourished and starving children. One was in January of 2007, during my first term, when my team made this part of our response to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
It was cold in the warehouse as we donned aprons and hairnets, sanitized our hands, and took our positions at work stations. Our job was to prepare a mixture of ingredients (dehydrated mixed vegetables, seasoning, rice, and soy) for shipment to prearranged locations throughout the world. By the end of our two hours, no one was talking about the cold. Just as the knowledge that we had taken a small step toward curbing malnutrition, starvation, and hunger-related diseases among children warmed our spirits, the act of bagging, weighing, sealing, and boxing the rice-soy casserole did the same for our bodies. I don’t remember how many meals we packaged, but it felt good all over to do it.
When Annette, a fellow AmeriCorps member, proposed a repeat of the project at a joint meeting of members and supervisors on June 11 of this year, pleasant memories of that experience washed over me. She encouraged us both to come ourselves and to recruit other volunteers. On our way out the door I heard my supervisor tell Annette that she knew that the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NCBVI) Center for the Blind’s Director was seeking volunteer opportunities for students. Perhaps this would be an option for them. We continued that discussion as she drove me home.
The center director not only liked the idea, but also agreed to our conducting a simulation of the activity in order to familiarize everyone with what would be expected. Since many of the students intended to take the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska’s chartered bus to the Federation’s national convention in Dallas, we made trail mix for them to snack on during the trip, instead of rice-soy casserole. Before we started, I briefly talked about the purpose of the project and about AmeriCorps in general. While packaging, students used nonvisual techniques such as verbally handing off a task to the next person in line, tapping on a container to indicate its whereabouts, using weight and sound to measure and pour ingredients, weighing filled bags with a talking scale, etc.
On the day of the event my husband, whom I had also recruited, and I rode to the event with another AmeriCorps member. By the time the NCBVI contingent arrived, he and I had already gone through the preliminaries and were part of a bagging team.
This time, June 25, it was warm enough to leave the warehouse door open, allowing an intermittent breeze to cool us as we worked. As NCBVI participants took their assigned places at a table behind me, their presence and the worthiness of the project buoyed me up. I felt especially good considering that a cancer diagnosis, surgery, and chemotherapy treatments had caused me to miss many of this term’s activities. When one of the center students commented, as we were readying to leave, that he wished he could stay and work there all day, while my body (still regaining stamina and retaining some neuropathy) asked respectfully to decline, my spirit said, “Me, too.”
On July 11 I once again went to the NCBVI Center, this time with volunteer satisfaction surveys to be completed. When I had received the form by email, I printed multiple copies and put the document into my PAC Mate Omni, a notetaker with a one-line refreshable Braille display so I could read it to folks myself. Since neither they nor I could see where they were to sign and check their answers, I had asked my reader (someone hired to help access print and other visuals) to make an 8.5-by-11-inch template out of heavy paper with cutouts in appropriate places. After reading through the form, I fielded questions and gave instructions for using the template. Although we could have recruited a sighted person to read the print form and show people where to place information, I wanted them to experience ways of handling this task using alternatives to sight.
Several mentioned how much they had liked having an opportunity to give back to their community. Everyone was glad to have been a part of packaging twenty-six boxes, each containing thirty-six bags, each of which held six servings, totaling 5,616 meals for hungry children somewhere. Many expressed their intention to serve in this or a similar project again. Before leaving, I thanked both students and staff for partnering with AmeriCorps through me, not only to benefit children, but also to educate the other project participants about our willingness and ability to be productive.
Richard Proudfit, founder of Kids Against Hunger, says, "When you feed a child, you feed our future." I agree completely. Without food our bodies cannot function. I also believe that, when we give blind people, who are often marginalized in our society, the opportunity to serve as equals in projects such as this one, we feed our philosophical future, which is also vital. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind, puts it this way in a speech entitled “Blindness—Handicap or Characteristic”: “It has been wisely observed that philosophy bakes no bread. It has, with equal wisdom, been observed that without a philosophy no bread is baked.”
I am grateful to both AmeriCorps and my host site, the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska, for multiple opportunities to share physical as well as philosophical sustenance. I am pleased to have participated twice in Kids Against Hunger and was especially glad, the second time, to be joined by fellow blind people developing confidence in themselves. As I complete my AmeriCorps service and prepare to explore other avenues, whatever I do, wherever I go, I intend to continue to engage in feeding our future, body, mind, and soul.