“It feeds my soul to help them feed their souls literally and figuratively.” – June Michaels, Food Pantry Volunteer
Ritter Center volunteer June Michaels is an Italian mother and she means it every single minute– even when – or maybe especially when – volunteering at the Ritter Center food pantry. She brings every ounce of that fierce momma bear protection, passion and love for the world, family, food and all of humanity to her role as a regular volunteer.
“I come multiple days a week to the food pantry and I get so excited when I see all of this gorgeous food. The produce is so beautiful. We start to break down boxes and go through these great big bags of wonderful food for everyone to eat. Honestly, the first thing I think about is this is going to be a fun project. It’s challenging to work in such a small space, and like an enormous jigsaw puzzle to piece it all together so it will be ready to hand out in time,” recalls June.
“I especially like being surprised. Each time you open a box or a bag, you never know what you are going to get inside, and today, for example, we got all of these fabulous different breads and bagels. Sometimes we see salad ingredients or dips. It is truly exciting to see what we are going to give out. I try to put a little bit of everything into each bag. I feel like I am a part of their family at that moment.
“You see, when you grow up being Italian, everything is around food. Food is social. Food is love. Food is social interaction and an act of love, really! Food, love, and caring are all in that one package that we hand out.”
June knows how important it is to keep in mind how the needs differ for those coming to the Ritter Center food pantry who are experiencing homelessness versus those who have access to a home with a refrigerator and stove.
“I know that for those experiencing homelessness, I have to be sure they receive things you can eat right away that are full of good nutrition. If they aren’t able to cook anything, then I can give them fresh fruit, or really just anything that is easy and healthy to eat. Sometimes we have wonderful vegetables, cookies and baked goods. We often have delicious things for those who can cook, too,” said June.
June doesn’t just appreciate the opportunity to give out food for the soul. She also savors the chance to make a connection and to build community.
“In walking up to someone, that is where you create a space for both love and friendship. That interaction can change everything. It is important for the soul and the spirit. We are all the same inside. We are all humans.
“I make it a priority to spend a few minutes with every person. Often, I will make a joke which lightens the mood and fosters a connection. You can make people laugh! So let’s laugh a little bit. It truly does break the ice. I also like to be sure that everything is perfect in the bag – just like they are family or friends coming over for a meal. It is so special when you let yourself into someone’s life and let them into yours for even a small moment in time. We don’t get much opportunity to interact with other people that we don’t know many outside our circle of friends and family. This is a real gift to share those connections with one another,” shared June.
“A number of our clients speak foreign languages. With different languages, I feel bad when I don’t speak their native language, too. After all, they are the brave ones. They came to this new nation. I can let them know with my body language, eyes and smile that I want them to know how happy I am to see them every week,” said June.
“Recently, I came across a client who said he didn’t want any vegetables. As an Italian mom, I told him that if you don’t want these veggies, how about a green salad? He joked that he couldn’t ‘mess’ with me because I’m an Italian mother. And guess what? He agreed to have a salad!” laughed June. “It feeds my soul to help them feed their souls literally and figuratively.”
June, you are amazing. Thank you so much for giving your time and passion to helping Ritter Center’s clients who visit our food pantry each week.