by Becky Handley
Since childhood, my parents have always taught me and my siblings to be the best we could be – always be nice to people; always work hard and try your best; and, most importantly, always try to leave a positive mark on the world. As I grew older, I kept this thought in tow. I looked to the actions of my older siblings, relatives, teachers, and even celebrities to get an idea of what it meant to be “great” and to make an impact on the lives of others. Being an athlete since the age of four, I naturally turned to my biggest sports idols for inspiration, renowned for their athletic ability and revered for their star status. As I matured though, I realized I was looking in the wrong places for inspiration and guidance. Most great “heroes” aren’t people of great distinction, studded with fame and fortune, but rather, people like you and me in the community, lending a helping hand to those who are in the greatest of need. I initially witnessed this type of valor during my first volunteering experiences at a local community food bank near my hometown, and it was reinforced at my latest class day at Food and Friends in the heart of Washington, DC.
Established as a non-profit in 1988, Food and Friends’ sole mission is to improve the lives of those impacted by HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other critical illness that limits the client’s ability to provide nourishment for themselves. Reaching over 2,600 individuals across the DC metro area each year, Food and Friends promotes self-sufficiency through meal distribution, nutrition education, and advocacy region-wide. With over 11 specialized meal plans available, their dietitians work closely with each of their clients to ensure they receive proper education, food safety tips, and therapeutic recommendations needed to support their recovery and overall wellbeing.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to work alongside the people who make these programs possible. Veteran volunteers and staff members receive and store hundreds of pallets each day, sorting fresh produce, shelf stable items, and protein-rich products into distribution boxes, and delivering truckloads of food to Food and Friends’ 8 community drop off locations across the region. I could feel the passion radiating from every single member of the Food and Friends’ team, each performing his or her designated duties with a smile. Because of their hard work and determination to provide nourishment to all who are impacted by critical illness, over 905,000 specialized meals are delivered each year to those in need of the support. Through my experiences, I have learned that these, and all those working toward the betterment of humanity, are the true heroes of each community. And now I know who I should strive to be like in my quest toward leaving my positive mark on the world.