By Sarah Antonello, New Member Recruitment Coordinator
During a typical day working at Heart Ministry Center’s (HMC) drive-through food pantry, the cars are ushered through the line as quickly as possible in order to serve as many community members as possible. But on one hot, humid Friday in June, one of the clients asked if she could pray with and for us. Taking that moment to pause in the middle of the frenzy struck me deeply at the time, but the moment has stayed with me in the weeks since. It has been as a reminder of the power of community and the value of serving others. The HMC staff and volunteers frequently tell the pantry clients, “Thank YOU for the opportunity to serve you,” as they drive away; that moment of prayer was the first time when I understood how grateful I was to be able to serve.
As members of the Junior League of Omaha, we tend to focus on being leaders in the community. But in my time at Heart Ministry Center and No More Empty Pots, two of the organizations JLO works with on the new focus area of hunger and access to healthy foods, I’ve found myself following others more often than I’m leading them. I have wanted to make suggestions and tweaks to improve efficiencies (that’s what I did in my day job), but what I’ve gotten to do instead is work on listening more than speaking, to strengthen and flex my humility muscles, and to be reminded of the innate humanity inside us all, regardless of the situation we find ourselves in.
In mid-May my job was downsized as part of the company’s pandemic response. I found myself scared, anxious, angry and lonely during the seemingly-endless stretches of days at home with no one to talk to. When the chance to start volunteering regularly through JLO’s Community Impact programs came up, I was ecstatic. Eagerly I signed up for multiple shifts, expecting this volunteering work to help with my loneliness and boredom, but it has done so much more.
This volunteering work has tested what I thought about myself. It hasn’t always been comfortable – physically or emotionally. But I’m developing a new skill: followship. And while I’m learning to follow, I get to observe those that are learning to lead, providing all of us the opportunity to develop and grow.
I joined the Junior League so that someone would organize volunteering opportunities for me. It was something I wanted to do, but there were so many causes that I couldn’t pick. As I learn more about food insecurity, I see how it perpetuates historical inequalities, frustrates education efforts, destroys communities and threatens the health and well-being of so many of our neighbors.
The work JLO is doing with its hunger and access to healthy food focus area is vital to the stability, health and wellbeing of our community. The partner organizations we work with have created robust programs and initiatives fighting to end food insecurity, and we are able to lend our time, energy and sometimes sweat to the cause, exponentially increasing the impact we can have, together.