“A Labor of Love”
My name is Tracey Washington, and I am the Food Bank Manager at AZCEND. I have worked in the AZCENDFood Bank for 14 years. I first came to AZCEND to volunteer in 2001 because my son wanted to volunteer, and he didn’t want to volunteer alone.
Little did I know, his desire to volunteer would change the course of my life. At the time, I was pursuing a degree in criminal justice, but the same week we volunteered, the current food truck driver resigned. I volunteered to start driving the truck to pick up food from local donors. The director at the time wouldn’t let me do it for free, so we agreed on a wage of $6.50 per hour for me to drive the truck. Being the food truck driver also meant performing maintenance, warehousing food items, and inventory counting, so I spent a good deal of time here.
While the director continued looking for another driver, I finished my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice the next year. As I finished my degree, I realized that I loved working at the Food Bank so much that I couldn’t bring myself to stop. So, instead of pursuing a career in criminal justice, I came on full-time at the Food Bank.
As I look back on my early days in the Food Bank, I remember being struck by all of the people who were in need. I will never forget two young children who came through the line one day with their mother to receive food. The children’s faces were shining with happiness. One of the children said, “Thank you. Now, we will be able to eat tonight and tomorrow morning.” As little children, that was as far into the future as they could see, but they expressed their thankfulness that because of the Food Bank, they would be able to eat tonight and the tomorrow morning.
I got to know the families who came to the food bank, and I appreciated the relationships that were built. The young people who needed community service hours then are now grown up, but some still come back occasionally to volunteer or to say hello. One of our current faithful volunteers first came to the food bank for assistance back then. Five years later, she began volunteering, and she’s been volunteering here ever since.
I remember another time when a mother came to volunteer on Fridays and get a food box for her own family at the end of the food distribution. One Friday, she saw that her son’s high school class had come to volunteer that morning, and when she saw his teacher, she asked to leave early and get a food box in private. She was afraid that her son would be teased if she was seen receiving a food box here.
I have seen the embarrassment that many people feel because they need help. They would rather not accept help if they had the choice, but they are thankful that we are here. I’ve learned that we might be tempted to judge a book by its cover, but we don’t really know a person’s story until we talk with them.
As I look back over the years, one of the things that is most clear to me is that all of us can climb over the walls of poverty by building relationships, getting to know people in poverty, and sew seeds of hope. I tell the kids volunteering for community service hours that they can be anything they want to be in life. They don’t have to accept any limits placed on them.
Now, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of AZCEND, unlike the little children who could only see today’s and tomorrow’s meals, you and I can look ahead and anticipate the future. I see that there will always be a need for organizations like AZCEND because life comes at us fast. Anyone of us can be doing fine, and then all of the sudden, a job loss or crisis puts us in a position we never thought we would be in. Often those folks end up donating or volunteering in the future when they get back on their feet.
I experienced a turn of events in life when I was diagnosed with cancer last February. I’ve been receiving chemo treatment since then. I have a chemo pack that I wear on my belt during my treatment cycles, and it’s important to me to still come to work most of the time during my treatments. Someone asked me recently why I come to work during my chemo treatments even when I feel sick.
The reason it’s important to me come to work during my treatments is that I have a great staff, and I want them to see that a difficult situation doesn’t have to run your life. We can still be helpful in the community and contribute no matter what we face. Cancer is an obstacle, but you learn how to deal with it and go about your daily life.
Clients who have found out have thanked me for being here, and they encourage me. So, it’s not just us helping clients, but they are giving me encouragement and hope. Yes, AZCEND is supportive of our clients, but our clients have been very supportive of us. So, I’ve experienced the truth that when we sew seeds of hope into others’ lives, those seeds of hope grow and come back into our lives, as well.
I love what I do. There has never been a day when I didn’t want to go to work. The truth is, I would do it for free. The joy and gratitude I feel from our clients, the happiness on children’s faces when they know where their next meal is coming from, and the changed lives we see makes my work at AZCEND a labor of love.