Loaves & Fishes doesn’t simply offer food; it’s about a much bigger and broader idea.

By Michael Snydel, Loaves & Fishes Intern Working as an intern this summer at Loaves & Fishes has been an enlightening experience, but it could have just as easily never happened. Last summer, I searched in vain for any form of employment. I probably applied to over 50 different places, and while some stores asked for an in-store interview or inquired into my actual availability, most balked at the prospect of a three-month summer employee. In this day and age, it’s more blind luck than anything else to be hired for a part-time job, especially when you’re in direct competition with adults and lack flexibility in your hours. Even without the looming economic reality, jobs are still an out-of-reach luxury for most teenagers.  Eventually, after hours of fruitless searching and seemingly endless rejection, I was prodded out of the house to find productive activity. Loaves & Fishes was the first place I visited. My parents had heard positive word of mouth about Loaves & Fishes, and they thought it would be a good opportunity for me to gain some work experience. At first, I thought I would volunteer a few hours here and there in the warehouse, but as the summer carried on, I found myself volunteering more frequently until I consistently averaged around 15 to 20 hours a week. I began to feel very comfortable in the warehouse, building camaraderie with many of the regular volunteers. More than simple friendship, though, I started to feel a real attachment to the pantry, I felt an obligation to put forth my best effort and work the hardest I could in the time I volunteered. I’m not quite sure when the next part happened, but at some point in the summer the executive director, Charles McLimans, noticed me as a frequent volunteer. He took me aside and asked me whether I would be interested in an internship the subsequent summer. My point is that this lead-up revealed something profound to me: Nothing ever just happens; everything in life requires a push. Good things don’t just happen because you’re a good person or vice versa. That’s not to say I was sleepwalking through my life, but I always felt a sense of waiting, as if something pivotal would occur of its own accord at any moment. It may sound positively simplistic, but it’s not until this summer that I really understood the impact of this idea. This revelation led me to realize that Loaves & Fishes doesn’t simply offer food; it’s about a much bigger and broader idea. The food and groceries we offer are certainly essential and necessary, but they’re only part of our true goal. Loaves & Fishes ultimately seeks to be a catalyst for people to take control of their lives and move forward. Loaves & Fishes offers stability and a chance for our clients to take a step back and figure out their next step. Loaves & Fishes doesn’t want clients to settle into the groove of accepting food if other options are available to them;  we want to spur real change in a person’s life. Unlike most other businesses, we’re not looking for lifelong clients; in fact we want just the opposite. We want to continually lower the number of people who are hurting in the community. As our slogan states, Loaves & Fishes seeks to end hunger and empower lives. Ending hunger is important, but the key lies in the empowerment goal. As the ancient proverb goes, “Give a man a fish, you have him fed for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have him fed for a lifetime.”

DC Central Kitchen with Loaves & Fishes

by Scott Romberg, Loaves & Fishes Intern Among all of the clients at Loaves & Fishes, each family takes a unique path to our front door. Interacting with clients at the registration desk has allowed me a glimpse into this diversity of poverty.   There is no typical client of a food pantry, and there is no one solution to ending hunger. This point has been emphasized by comparing my experience at Loaves & Fishes to my time as a volunteer at DC Central Kitchen in Washington DC. Some clients of Loaves & Fishes come here because they are recently unemployed and need to save what money they have for the rent or utilities. Some come to us because they had an unexpected medical expense which diverted their funds away from groceries. Still others come because their salary is simply insufficient to feed their family. In Southeast Washington DC, however, the root cause of hunger can be summed up in one word: drugs. The heroin and cocaine problem in DC is overwhelming. Employment, family life, and even personal safety are at risk when these addictive substances are abused. Worse yet, after being incarcerated for drug charges, released persons are provided with almost no means to secure a job or housing, which leads them right back into the drug trade. This is where DC Central Kitchen tries to intervene. The system is based on enrolling recently incarcerated clients in a culinary training program. The clients (now culinary students) learn to prepare food, which is distributed in the community. After sixteen weeks, students receive a culinary certificate and are placed into jobs.   In this way, DC Central Kitchen uses food as a tool to train unemployed adults, while providing thousands of meals in the process. Though there are differences between the DC Central Program and Loaves & Fishes, the most important similarity is the goal to use food to empower people to be self-sufficient. At Loaves & Fishes I have worked with Jane Macdonald and the rest of the staff to help develop and promote our Pathways to Empowerment Programs. From career counseling, to our VITA tax assistance program, to literacy programs, we work with our partners to provide clients with the tools they need to become successful. At DC Central Kitchen, the best marketing comes from the graduates of the program who return to the community with a job and a renewed sense of hope. They encourage their friends to enroll in the program. At Loaves & Fishes we envision a similar group of successful clients who will refer their friends to our Empowerment programs. The root causes of food insecurity are drastically different in Naperville and Southeast DC, so different approaches must be taken to tackling the problem. However, no matter what path is chosen, the end goal is self-sufficiency. —– Scott Romberg graduated from Naperville North High School in 2009. Currently a junior at Georgetown University, he is majoring in government with a minor in theology. Scott plays competitive ultimate frisbee for Georgetown, competing against other schools along the east coast. A White Sox fan, his strongest allegiance is, by far, to the Chicago Bulls. With friends, he started a Bulls blog and also had a radio show at school, largely dedicated to the NBA. At Georgetown, Scott is actively involved in Relay for Life, which benefits the American Cancer Society. Future plans are uncertain, but he is very interested in nonprofit management and would eventually like to attend graduate school for business, law, or public policy. Next semester, Scott will study Spanish at la Universidad de Salamanca in Spain.