Photo: Getty Images
By Zanita Johnson
January is Poverty in America Awareness Month and it is more than just a month-long acknowledgement for me. It is what drives me to work at Food Bank For New York City, and what has always motivated me to do more than lament the crisis from the sidelines. Before coming to Food Bank last month, I spent five years working at one of our member charities, Metro World Child (MWC), where I sourced, developed and maintained their mobile pantry and snack distributions for more than 20,000 children throughout the five boroughs.
While at MWC it was personally important for me to have a very direct impact on the lives of the people we served. Volunteering allowed me to foster relationships with approximately 125 children and their families through MWC's mentorship program and other initiatives.
It was this work that created in me an "I get to" mentality. Whether sitting in court during neglect hearings on behalf of parents who were doing everything in their power to ensure that their kids had food and clothes, or teaching families how to make healthy eating choices when nutritious items were often beyond their budget, I fell in love with these children and their families. They adopted me as auntie or godmother, and in some cases, as the stand-in mother at plays, basketball and football games, and parent/teacher conferences. Those experiences made me realize that I don't just do this work, "I get to" do this work. It's an honor that I cherish.
The past five years laid the foundation for a life dedicated to doing whatever I can to make a difference for vulnerable people in my community. Becoming a Food Banker as Manager of Member Services is the best way I can think of to further the fight against hunger in our city. I can now help serve the network to which I once belonged. Being a Food Banker allows me the platform to make recommendations and create protocols that benefit the specific needs of the food pantries and soup kitchens in our network, while creating a more efficient and empowering environment for the guests who visit our charities.
My passion and experience is what brought me to Food Bank For New York City, and the children that I have the privilege of continuing to volunteer with today are what motivate me for a lifetime of service to this cause.
Zanita Johnson is Manager of Member Services at Food Bank For New York City.