Renee App: VISTA Community Engagement and Volunteer Services


In the Spring of 2016, I was in my 3rd year at the University of Arizona. Drowning in essays for my Gender & Women’s Studies minor, and scrambling to complete online discussions for my Sociology major, I came across a bolded requirement in a class syllabus… “25 hours of community service. REQUIRED.”

“Oh no… I don’t have time to help the community, I cannot even help myself?!”

Google search, key words: Volunteering, Tucson.

Thus, began my relationship with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. In my initial days as a short-term, student volunteer, I assisted in filling a grocery cart with pantry staples like bread, fruit juice, a large bag of raisins. The huge warehouse, painted with a colorful collection of diverse volunteers, has a quote written largely on the cement wall, “To the world you may be one person but to one person you may be the world”. As my fellow volunteers rolled the grocery cart to the next person waiting in line, I knew that to be true.

In the summer of 2018, I began serving at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona as an AmeriCorps VISTA, working in Community Engagement and Volunteer Services. From coordinating volunteers and interns, to representing the Community Food Bank (CFB) at outreach events, I have learned to love every inch of this organization and the programs it offers; whose hands reach out to help those in need of far more than just emergency food.

Part of my service includes engaging with youth in the Tucson community, who make up a smaller percentage of our loyal volunteers at the food bank. This past October, a couple dozen Tucson Teens gathered in the CFB volunteer waiting room on a Saturday morning. Some chatting excitedly in cliques, while others stood alone, waiting nervously for their next instruction. After a couple of hours of volunteer work in the CFB warehouse, the Teens filed upstairs into a conference room and ate lunch. Watching them, I noticed a few more smiles, a couple new pairs of friends, and an overall feeling of motivation and enthusiasm as the workshop began. These Teens were participating in a new program within CFB called, “Teen Leaders, Against Hunger” workshop and volunteer experience. After volunteering, the group of young leaders explore the world of poverty, which for many of them, lives right outside of their door. Sharing personal experiences, learned stereotypes, and participating in a poverty simulation, the Teens are challenged to go beyond their previous understanding, and grasp the idea of poverty in a new, productive way.

The stigma around poverty and food insecurity have been engraved into our society by generations of shame and guilt. But through the youth in our community, it’s not too late to change the ideas that are shared and practiced around poverty and the people who are living through it. This is why CFB is committed to Teen’s as Leaders; they are the next generation to get what we got wrong. They are the helping hands that will build a future of community and belonging, regardless of age, race, origin, or income.

After this heavy discussion, the teens are asked a question, “What’s next? What are you going to do about it?” Together, they are given the time and space to collaborate, make a plan, take this problem into their own hands, and take action.

The next workshop will be held during Rodeo Week, Friday, February 23rd 2018, and is open to all high school students. Bring a friend or two, we can’t wait to see what you can do.
VISTA Community Engagement and Volunteer Services at the Community Food Bank