Kids Eating

There is a place where people wake up hungry in the morning and go to bed hungry at night. These people are our neighbors. The place they live is called Trenton.

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Volunteers often tell us that their experiences at TASK have a life-changing impact. Our Board and staff agree. The lessons we have learned here are profound and poignant. One volunteer, Amani Ahmed, was able to articulate some of her thoughts in the following essay:

The drive from my home to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) is exactly twenty minutes. Twenty minutes and thirteen miles. You might think that with such a small distance, there couldn’t possibly be much difference between the two towns. If that statement was your assumption, you’d be wrong.

I live in a neighborhood in which I’ve never had to question the safety of my environment. I attend a school in which at the sight of a questionable van, the entire school was on ‘lockdown’. I live in an area in which I have never heard the sound of a gunshot or witnessed a violent crime. Many kids who live in TASK’s surrounding community cannot say the same.

My name is Amani. I’m sixteen. I’m going to be a Junior next school year and I don’t know a lot about the world. I’m still just a kid. But I do know something. I know that the world I live in is completely different than the world I see when I volunteer at TASK. I also know that there is something remarkable about the experience TASK has to offer.

I know that it’s easy to ignore the fact that people undergo hardships and difficulties. I know it’s even easier to forget the fact that there exists suffering in the most powerful country in the world. I know that we often focus so much on every other aspect of the world that we forget to look out for our neighbors. In my community, simple things like paying for a movie ticket or affording a new pencil case are a non-issue. Our worries are about school, getting accepted to the university, and finding the perfect dress to wear for prom. Some people don’t even have the luxury to worry about such issues, because their focuses are on getting through the next day. TASK helps break the boundaries between these communities, and opens a field of communication between all types of people.

I also know a lot of students in high school and college might go to TASK, hoping to merely complete a certain number of community service hours and walk away as the same person, unaffected by their encounters with TASK. However, I know it’s extremely difficult to do so. When one walks away from TASK, one often walks away with a new experience that changes one’s perspective about the community. I know I have.

I know that there is something incredible about the smiles on some of the patrons’ faces as they say thank you when receiving a meal. There aren’t a lot of volunteer opportunities that can give you the same sense of gratification and accomplishment as TASK, because TASK harbors a warmth and a genuineness that is hard to find. As an outsider, one may maintain the perception of TASK that it is simply a charity. However, I know that once one steps in the door and actually spends time with everyone involved with TASK, it no longer feels like a ‘charity’.

I can’t quite explain everything that I’ve gained by working with TASK, because I’ve gained more than I could comprehensibly describe. But I suppose I could try to explain how it feels. Volunteering at TASK, you get swept up in the atmosphere, and you forget that what you’re doing is actually considered, ‘work’. It becomes enjoyable to tutor and serve the patrons, as the experience fosters friendly relationships between volunteers/staff and the patrons. Other than serving meals and offering an adult education program, TASK provides other programs as well. TASK has art classes and computer literacy courses, all of which are incredibly helpful for the community. I’ve been lucky enough to observe one program called SHARE, which is sort of like a club. The members of SHARE write poems and stories and share their work with each other, often leading to innovative discussions. That SHARE meeting was incredible for me. Hearing their stories and experiences firsthand was a real revelation for me. I guess I always knew that such hardships existed, but it had always been so far away for me.

I guess prior to actually volunteering at TASK, I’d always assumed that the entire ordeal would be scary, because that’s the way people had always portrayed such work to be. I suppose it’s just another case of ‘don’t believe everything you hear’. Because it’s not. Scary, I mean. The initial feeling of stepping outside your comfort zone is one of nerves and fear, but those flutters in your stomach disappear immediately once you enter the building. Everyone I’ve ever met here has been welcoming and kind. The people I’ve helped tutor are usually so much fun. The community here is so vibrant and alive; it’s difficult not to enjoy yourself while volunteering. For example, when it’s time to serve lunch, there is always music playing. That fact might seem irrelevant, but when you’ve had a difficult day, the sound of some lively music could lift your spirits. The walls of the dining room are adorned with artwork, which contributes to the lively atmosphere. TASK takes the time to think about small things like playing music and hanging artwork during meals, because the staff believes that each patron deserves an experience in which every aspect has been thought out carefully.

TASK has a great environment and it’s rewarding to know that I’ve have contributed to it. I love knowing that I had some small part in brightening someone’s day. Mostly, those I’ve worked with have been super grateful and friendly. My observations of the people at TASK each day have changed some of my attitudes regarding the community and have affected the decisions I make. After working with TASK, I’ve discovered that many of the patrons show a courage that I would have never understood before.

I can now recognize the strength it must take for someone to actually admit that they need some help. Instead of allowing life to beat them down and force them to give up hope, they have realized that TASK exists to offer the opportunity for a brighter future. Had I never volunteered at TASK, I don’t think I would have ever been able to identify the courage it takes to accept that it’s okay to utilize TASK’s facilities. I think I’ve been able to recognize a lot of such qualities in TASK’s patrons as I’ve spent more time here.
However, the truth is that even after spending hours with TASK and its community members, I’ll never truly understand the lives that some of these people live. I’ll never know ‘struggle’ to have the same definition they find it to have. I’ll never know ‘bravery’ to have the same definition they find it to have. Everyone’s experiences with life and pain and strength are different. It doesn’t make anyone’s suffering or successes less significant, but people from two worlds may never know the same pain or sense of accomplishment. I’m honored to have been given the opportunity to learn a little more about a different side of life.

I think that a lot of high school students expect that when they volunteer, the organization for which they are working is the beneficiary of their efforts. I don’t believe that to be true. As cliché or cheesy as it may sound, I truly support the conviction that the volunteer benefits just as much from the experience as the intended clientele of the organization.

As a teenager, I know that we, as a collective group, often struggle with the concept of what our purpose is on the planet. I’m not claiming to have found the meaning of life, but there is something to be said about the beauty and grace one finds in the experience of serving others. I believe that some part of our existence has to involve serving those around us, because it’s the only thing that makes sense to me. I think TASK creates the perfect atmosphere to allow everyone to fully realize this purpose. Then again, these are just words on paper, and words can only go so far. I think people need to experience it themselves to actually understand my sentiments. Because I don’t want people to ‘take my word for it’. I want people to uncover this discovery on their own. I think that’s the most important lesson I’ve learned through TASK- recognizing the magnitude of the effect helping the community can have. But there are more lessons to be learned and more knowledge to gain in the world than I can ever completely know. But I think I’m okay with that.

My name is Amani. I’m sixteen. I’m going to be a Junior next year and I don’t know a lot about the world. I’m still just a kid. But I think I’m learning a little bit more about life each day.

Amani tutoring Mary
TASK is very grateful to have volunteers like Amani (pictured left). She took a break from tutoring Mary (right) to take this photo. She's a rising high school Junior and she spent a week of her summer vacation drafting a plan to invite more teenagers to get involved with service projects for TASK. She spent last summer volunteering as a tutor in our Adult Education Program. During the school year, she helped orchestrate multiple service projects that benefited TASK patrons.

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In Plain Sight: The Story of TASK

By LEE SEGLEM, Member of TASK Board of Trustees

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