Loretta Brings Remarkable Empathy When Helping Her Neighbors
Many produce distributions supported by Second Harvest Heartland take place outside, which helps get the word out to the community about the available fresh produce. So when the forecast tells a story of inclement weather conditions, sometimes our partners have to determine if the produce distribution will be safe for volunteers and the neighbors we serve. Occasionally, produce distribution coordinators make the tough decision to postpone one.
But Loretta, the Health Care Coordinator at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, didn’t want to cancel a food resource on a rainy Saturday late this summer. Mt. Olivet had put a lot of work into getting the word out about offering free, fresh fruits and vegetables to the community around her church, and she didn’t want to let anyone down.
Loretta and the rest of the Mt. Olivet Church team worked together to go the extra mile. They moved the produce distribution to the inside of their church—a tighter fit, a more complex arrangement, but something that was worth the time for Loretta.
She gathered supplies to hand-make signs to direct community members to the right place. Her flexibility made a difference for hungry neighbors; more than 60 families were able to get fresh produce that Saturday.
Loretta is motivated to fight for hungry families for many reasons, but part of her deep empathy is from her own experiences when she’s needed help. “If people looked at me when I was younger, they would have never thought we were hungry,” Loretta said of her childhood. “We grew up in typical suburbia where people are earning a pretty decent income, but we were hungry at the end of the month. There was times where there was no food in the fridge.”
Having school meals growing up made a big difference for her and her mother, who was struggling to provide for her children. “People don’t understand how kids worry about what’s going to be home when they get home. They wonder, ‘Should I eat more at lunch today?’ You shouldn’t be focusing on those things,” Loretta said.
Every decision Loretta makes when helping out at these produce distributions is driven by making sure families have what they need to be comfortable. She makes light jokes to try and help create a friendly, relaxed environment. “Even in the intake, when we ask them about income guidelines, it’s a humiliating feeling to say where you’re at. You almost feel like you should be doing better. We ask and assure that income guidelines are just a measure, no judgment,” Loretta said. “This is a place where we have compassion. [We] make them feel like they belong and it’s okay to be there.”
Most importantly, Loretta does not make judgments, and she wishes more people did the same. “You [could] live in America, go to a great school, live in a nice neighborhood. We don’t know the picture of what a hungry person looks like. It could be anybody. Anybody can fall on hard times,” Loretta said. “Sometimes when I was younger, it wasn’t ALL the time I was hungry, sometimes it’s just for a little while. Maybe people aren’t suffering all the time, but people may go through ups and downs. You don’t know!”
With the winter now upon us, Mt. Olivet will continue to offer their weekly Wednesday evening meal for anyone in the neighborhood who could use a free, warm meal this holiday season.
Thank you to Loretta and the rest of the team at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church for making such an important difference. One of the neighbors who attended that rainy distribution told us just how much it meant to her!
Learn more about our Produce Initiative, and how we are keeping produce at the forefront of our work, even when the growing season ends. Or, learn how you can help make the holidays less of a burden for families who already struggle to afford food.