National Volunteer month celebrates the impact of volunteer service at Philabundance and spotlights some of our most dedicated volunteers over the last year.
If you have ever made the drive west from Philadelphia on Lancaster Avenue, you have likely observed the diverse expanse that is the Main Line. Past Suburban Square in Ardmore, mere blocks from new car dealerships and a stone’s throw from the lush Haverford College campus, is Memorial Church of God in Christ. In addition to its weekly worship services (virtual for the time being), the church runs a food pantry out of the its basement that serves hundreds of people per week.
The pantry is open Wednesdays and Fridays, but Alyce Spence, the full-time volunteer pantry coordinator, got a call on a Monday evening in February that a nearby family had experienced a house fire. She said, with no hesitation, “They can come tomorrow”. Alyce works at the pantry Monday through Friday 8am to 2pm. She had worked in food service for a public school district for most of her life until the pandemic hit and she and many of her colleagues were furloughed.
Lucky for Memorial Church of God, her food service skills and passion for helping others translated seamlessly to working in the food pantry. Alyce loves sorting, organizing and ensuring all the food labels are facing outwards for clients and volunteers to see. “I look forward to serving people. I want people to be happy and spread the word (about the pantry).”
In the early years of food pantries, there weren’t many options for pantry visitors other than canned goods. “Pantries are different now,” Alyce says. Memorial Church of God carries many high quality foods including fresh produce, meat, and bread. They even carry vegan bread, which they set aside for those clients that ask for it. Alyce wants to make sure people leave with food they can eat and enjoy for at least a week.
When it comes to regular pantry attendees, Alyce knows how many people are in a household and gives them the appropriate amount of food. “Get to know your clientele if you can…I always ask, ‘Do you have children?'” and she will give them extra staples like peanut butter, jelly and bread accordingly. For someone with kids at home, “One jar of peanut butter and one loaf of bread isn’t going to help.” She recognizes that it is hard to ask for help and tries to go out of her way to welcome everyone. Thinking of the many families with kids who have been affected by the pandemic, she says, “I know these kids are hungry. People are hungry. They may not say it out loud but they’re hungry.”
“Alyce embodies the concept of diligence, persistence, and yet enjoyment in her work,” says Pastor Daren Miller, lead pastor at Memorial Church of God and the founder of its food pantry. “She loves the people, and the people love her. To make people feel valued is a quality that can only be exemplified when it comes from the heart.”
Memorial Church of God recently held a food drive through Haverford township in which people donated canned goods. Alyce and the other volunteers went through each can, checking the expiration date to make sure it was within PHLB’s guidelines. “If I’m not serving it to my children, I’m not giving it at the pantry,” she says. Checking the labels on donated food is just one of the crucial jobs that volunteers fulfill at Philabudance agencies across the Philadelphia region, including the Philabundance warehouse. While we accept canned goods that are up to 180 days past their product date, anything beyond that must be discarded in addition to items that have rust or dents in the packaging.
When I asked her what gets her up in the morning, she responds without hesitation: “Blessing other people is my payment. When people leave happy, that is my greatest reward. We are not here to judge people.”