Trenton Smith arrived at the Second Harvest Food Bank ready for his volunteer shift. The 18-year-old is no stranger to giving back to his community. He has been volunteering at the food bank since the beginning of the school year and he and his classmates have a system down.
The group of 11 students are here to pack backpacks for Second Harvest’s BackPack Program – providing easy-to-prepare, take-home meals for children at-risk of hunger. Breaking up into teams – because they say, “a little competition makes it fun,” – Trenton and the other students find their place at the tables and quickly begin assembling the bags.
One student puts a cereal cup in a zip-lock bag and then passes the bag to the next student who puts in a carton of milk and so on. Their process is pretty seamless and functions so well, you would never guess that all of these students volunteering are either partially or completely blind.
“I am sight-impaired,” said Trenton, a student at the Tennessee School of the Blind and a regular volunteer, “but that doesn’t stop me from helping kids who need it.”
“We have been bringing our students once or twice a month for the past couple of years to Second Harvest to volunteer and this just means the world to them,” says Andy Joiner, Business and Work-Place Teacher at the school. “The skills they learn here are incredibly valuable – teamwork, process, and setting goals.”
Tennessee School of the Blind has nearly 130 students between the ages of 5 and 22. A residential school – most of the K-12 students are from all over the state. Andy says that volunteerism keeps the students connected to the community while giving them a skillset they can use after they graduate.
“It’s hard for them to find jobs,” said Andy. “People just don’t realize that these students can do just as much – sometime more – than their sighted peers.”
Andy says the inclusive-volunteer environment at Second Harvest is a great example of how we can lift each other up as a community.
“We are helping feed those struggling with hunger while our students gain experience and the feeling of accomplishment,” said Andy. “It’s a great partnership.”
The Tennessee School of the Blind even awarded members of the Second Harvest volunteer staff an award for “Outstanding Community Partnership” this past April, for the organization’s work and support of the school’s work-based learning program.
“We really can’t thank Second Harvest enough for giving our students the great opportunity to serve others,” said Andy. “They always ask when they can come back.”
As for Trenton, his experience volunteering has impacted what he would like to do career-wise after he graduates.
“I would like to try to work at a food bank,” said Trenton. “I think it would be fun to help others every day for a job.”