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For Kids Needing Summer Activities, Consider Volunteer Leon

Alyssa and Jacob Maleszewski of Tallahassee stand next to a large box containing canned food at Second Harvest of the Big Bend. They are checking the expiration dates on the cans.
Gina Jordan/WFSU

Now that students have been out of school for a few weeks, the Leon County Volunteer Center is getting an uptick in inquiries from parents and teens. They’re finding a variety of opportunities for students to give their time this summer. 

Large bins line a long wall at the Second Harvest of the Big Bend’s 41,000 square foot warehouse near the Tallahassee airport.  Signs with different food categories are posted over each bin.

“Baking items, dry grains, fruits…” 18-year-old Jacob Maleszewski reads the signs dotting the wall as we tour the facility. The recent graduate of Lincoln High School dons a pair of blue gloves and starts sorting cans. He volunteers at the food bank with his sister Alyssa, a rising freshman at Lincoln.

Bins full of donated food line the wall at Second Harvest of the Big Bend. The food is sorted into categories. The food bank also takes cold food and fresh produce.
Credit Gina Jordan/WFSU / WFSU
Donated food is sorted into categories at Second Harvest of the Big Bend. The food bank also takes cold food and fresh produce.

“Our parents told us about it, and we thought it was a good opportunity to get some service hours and help out the community,” Alyssa says.

Volunteers are trained for a variety of jobs to handle the 12 million pounds of food that will come into the warehouse this year.

Large boxes are stacked from floor to ceiling at the Second Harvest of the Big Bend warehouse. Donated food is sorted, labeled, packed, and distributed from 41,000 square foot warehouse in Tallahassee.
Credit Gina Jordan/WFSU / WFSU
Second Harvest of the Big Bend sorts, labels, packs, and distributes millions of pounds of food each year from its 41,000 square foot warehouse in Tallahassee.

“Once it’s sorted, it goes through a more intense process of quality checking and date checking to ensure that the food is safe to be distributed to our clients in the 11 counties that we serve,” says Shari Hubbard, director of community relations at Second Harvest. “Then it also has to be boxed by category and weighed and labeled.”

Many students need community service hours in their pursuit of Florida’s Bright Futuresscholarships for college.  But they may find other rewards in volunteering.

“I think that what they don’t realize is how good they feel walking out the door,” says Jeri Bush, division director of Leon County Volunteer Services. “Everybody can serve. If you’re even 5 years old, you can serve with your family at a food bank.”

Bush helps place volunteers of all ages. She says students can learn skills and quickly become team leaders. “They also get to meet new people. They get to test drive a potential career in their future, and then the reward of knowing they served an agency or a person,” Bush says. “You should always walk out feeling a little bit elated. You’re giving your time for free to an organization to help further their mission.”

This is a can of B&M Brown Raisin Bread. We've never heard of this, and we think it's cool.
Credit Gina Jordan/WFSU / WFSU
The food bank gets all kinds of donated items, including unique products like this can of brown raisin bread.

Jacob and Alyssa are volunteering a couple of times a week at Second Harvest, putting in 4 hours per shift through the summer, and they plan to bring friends.

They say it doesn’t interfere with their free time.

“I can go home after this and play video games, and I have other vacations I’m doing,” Jacob says. Alyssa chimes in, “I feel like it’s just very good to give back to the community, especially those in need.”

Students and adults can search the Volunteer Leon website to match their passion with a local group needing help.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.