Shariq surveys the volunteers packing bags on a Wednesday morning. He checks on their stock of each food item, hauling bulk trays of canned corn, plastic wrapped bins of peanut butter, and noisy boxes of dry pasta up from storage. He refills supplies for each volunteer, and then he reorganizes bags piled high with groceries, counting out the total of each stack.
The next day, still wearing his bright red mask which poofs out from his beard, he struggles to individually bag up frozen chickens. Gloves make it slippery work, and the bags are hard to pull apart. “Let me help you with that,” a volunteer says. Then she follows it up with, “How is everything going?”
It’s a common greeting among Arm In Arm volunteers: “Let me help you. How are you?” Perhaps more now than ever, we check in on each other. We offer a helping hand.
Shariq has been at the front lines of the organization’s pandemic response. How could he not as the Operations and Volunteer Coordinator? He fills daily volunteer slots to ensure we can get food into the hands of so many in need right now. Some volunteers pack bag after bag, a routine as unique as each volunteer doing it. He oversees the process as volunteers develop their own assembly line system to pull each product needed and fit the stack of items together into a bag. With 16 shelf-stable items of all sizes for every bag, that can be a feat unto itself. Other volunteers load their trunks and back seats with the grocery bags, armed with a list of names and addresses for delivery across the city.
The common greeting is a reminder that we are one team, one community, Shariq says. “We are here to help each other. There is a fire I see in our volunteers. They care to do more and more,” he shares. He continues, “Things change day to day. No one knows what tomorrow holds, but we’re still here, and we will keep going.” It’s clear Shariq is proud of our volunteer team and the many ways they have come together in what has become a global crisis.
In the last few weeks, Shariq himself has gone out to deliver, house to house, in Trenton. He notes he has gone to neighborhoods experiencing recent violence, where young men have been gunned down. People can be slow to answer the door, fearful they may walk into stray bullets. As Shariq points out, some of those neighbors need us the most, and we can’t be deterred. “There is risk, but we take every precaution. I’ve seen the hurt out there, from social distancing and feeling isolated to their needs growing so drastically and how overwhelming that can be. We have to keep at it because everyone deserves to eat.”
“Arm In Arm has really risen to the challenge,” Shariq says as he hands a volunteer who just arrived a mask and some gloves. “We’ve been open and flexible. Volunteers, staff, everyone. It’s been incredible to see.” When Shariq shuts down for the day and readies his stuff to continue working remotely from home, our Hanover site has 80 new bags prepped for community members—packed and readied to go in just 2 hours. “It’s been a massive undertaking,” he says, “and we’re here making it happen.”