Volunteering in WNY

June 6th was National Hunger Awareness Day, and I spent my day volunteering through VolunteerWNY at the Matt Urban Hope Center in Buffalo. During my time, seven other volunteers and I made PB&J sandwiches and packed lunch bags with fruit and water bottles. The goal of the program was to make 100 meals for their Outreach team to distribute to those in need.

VolunteerWNY is funded under the Volunteer Generation Fund and the New York State Commission on National and Community Service. Its main initiative is to address the root causes of hunger throughout the WNY area. Besides the Matt Urban Hope Center, VolunteerWNY has several other partners as well, such as Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier, Compass House, Heart Love & Soul, Food Bank of WNY, and University at Buffalo Community Engagement Program.

My experience involved collaborating with a variety of new people from different backgrounds to learn about the importance of volunteer work and the issue of hunger. We ended up making over 100 lunch bags and helped the center prepare them for pick up. This experience was not only fun but also rewarding. It made me realize why volunteering is so essential to our community and has made me grateful for the things I have.

There are many privileges in our lives that we don’t often question or even consider privileges in the first place, for instance, having food on the table, access to an education, or a roof over our heads. There are millions of people in the world who struggle to gain access to these necessities, some of whom can found right here in Buffalo.

An article by The Buffalo News found that new census information indicates that 54% of children in the Buffalo area live in poverty. This information further shows that poverty in WNY is gradually increasing, with one-third of residents considered poor. Increased poverty rates are shown to have an indirect relationship with learning ability as well as education overall.

According to the Food Bank of Western New York, within the Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Niagara counties 1 in 8 people is at risk of hunger or is food insecure, and 1 in 5 children is food insecure. Food insecurity refers to “not having consistent access to enough nutritious food to living a healthy life.” Though poverty is not necessary for food insecurity, it is usually an indicator of it.

Numerous factors can lead to poverty and hunger. It is important not to discriminate or judge, rather help those who are facing situations that are out of their control.

It’s never too late to start. If you’ve never volunteered before, I highly recommend it. 

Volunteering is an extremely humbling and enlightening experience that teaches you to give back to your community. When going into a volunteering experience, you don’t expect to take anything away from it, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Despite not being monetarily compensated for your time and effort, you receive a whole lot more that you can’t put a price on. You’re doing something bigger than yourself that has widespread benefits and it changes your life and perspective, as well as the lives of others. Your actions are directly benefitting other individuals in need who require the help you’re providing. No matter whether you’re spending years, a month, a week, a day, or even an hour dedicating your time to volunteer work, you are making a discernible difference that will hopefully lead to lasting change.

For more information about volunteering opportunities, please visit VolunteerWNY at volunteerwny.org.

By: Ashley Dressig

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