Despite being a busy Social Work student and now living in Austin, Patricia prioritizes volunteering in The Caring Place’s Food Pantry. Every Friday, she makes the trip to The Caring Place to stock shelves and assist shoppers. She says, “Even though it’s a little more of a drive, it’s worth it.” Volunteering has always been worth it to Patricia and an essential part of her life since she was 12 or 13. “I’ve always volunteered at places: food pantries, animal shelters, senior homes, etc. I grew up in a tough situation, but no matter how bad our situation was, there were always people to help us. We always tried to help back.” When Patricia moved to Texas a couple of years ago and was looking for a place to “help back,” she saw that The Caring Place not only had a Food Pantry but also had Programs and Services and thrift stores. Impressed with the breadth of the operation, Patricia said, “It had so many options and seemed like a great place to get involved. I don’t even think I went anywhere else. I immediately learned about The Caring Place and said, ‘yeah, that’s it’ and started.”
Before COVID, Patricia initially volunteered in the “Outdoors and More” section of the store, but, when The Caring Place opened back up, she was needed in the newly expanded Food Pantry. Reflecting on the changes, Patricia noted, “I like the new layout since COVID. There used to be walls here. The pantry was much smaller. Everything was a lot more crammed together. It took customers a lot longer to search through the shelves. The two types of pasta or beans would blend together, and their eyes would miss all that was there. Now that it’s more spread out, they seem to be able to pick out what they want a lot easier.”
Patricia has enjoyed working in the Food Pantry because it easily allows for her favorite part of being a volunteer here—talking to people. “I love to hear people’s stories. I love getting to know people. I love finding out what they’ve been through. I really enjoy spending time with them while they’re shopping.” Patricia particularly likes sharing recipes with the clients. “There’s a lot of times when someone will ask, ‘What can I do with this?’ and I’ll tell them what I used to do when I was a kid because I lived off of food pantries.” Because of her own experience, Patricia can uniquely empathize, connect with, and help the shoppers. She also knows how to be creative with food. “For example, I sure know what to do with a can of pork… a lot! Yes, there’s a lot of options to make it actually taste good. It’s fun to share recipes, talk about life.”
The Caring Place is special to Patricia and other neighbors in the community because it operates and focuses on compassion. In her own words, Patricia said, “It shows people compassion is still a possibility. A lot of people these days, all they see is the darkness, the bad parts of life, especially from the news. Everyone can look at each other in such a negative light. But something like this really shows that people still care, that people are still trying.” Patricia is certainly a person who still cares. There’s a reason she’s going into social work. “Most social workers have a drive to do things like this. I like people. I like taking care of them. I like helping—being a part of that compassion.” Led by her heart for others, The Caring Place has enabled Patricia to continue her lifelong journey and commitment of helping.