November 30, 2009

23 years and still smiling

"I've just seen so many people come and go, and I just keep on doing what I do. I don't really stop to think about my job very much."

That's Sharlene, who very well may be the longest-serving member of Bread for the City's family. Sharlene started as a volunteer in our food pantry way back in 1986, when BFC was just a little basement office on 14th Street NW.

"I was working at Roy Rogers, and was also on public assistance," she says. "Once I got the job at Bread for the City, I was able to get off public assistance. And now I can survive on what I make and I love what I do. I'm grateful for what BFC has given me.

"In typical Bread for the City fashion, Sharlene moved around within the organization -- working at reception, coordinating the clothing room, helping out in the medical clinic.

"Bread for the City is always dibbling and dabbling," she says, "trying new things, putting you over here and you over there. Looking for the combination that just works."

And clearly something worked, because 23 years is quite an impressive feat. Jeannine Sanford, BFC's Deputy Director, shares that "Sharlene is a hard worker who always pitches in to do whatever needs to be done. And she has a smile that can light up a room. I can't tell you how many times we've had clients comment that her welcoming smile brightened their day."

Since it's November when we celebrate Sharlene's tenure and November is also the month that kicks off our biggest special event each year, Holiday Helpings, I asked for her thoughts on Holiday Helpings.

"It's a blessing that we can do this for people. To be able to give a holiday meal to someone who maybe wouldn't get one otherwise, that's really a blessing.... Do some people take it for granted? Sure. But we don't do it for them. We do it for those people who cannot do it for themselves and who really appreciate it. I can think of a few people I've handed turkeys to in the last few weeks, who lived with my grandmother in the shelter, and now they are living on their own with very little. To them a turkey basket from us is a gift."

"In an ideal world, no one would need our services," says Sharlene. "But some people have barriers. They don't have the education or the skills or the path out. Everyone who comes to Bread for the City needs something, whether it's one of our 5 services or not. And usually we can give them something, whether it's a bag of food, a referral or even a chance to talk or just a smile. It's amazing how far a smile can go, can change someone's outlook on their day, can make them see that the world isn't quite as bad as they thought. It's great to see the relief when someone leaves having had weight taken off their shoulders. It starts a domino effect - that hope spreads to other areas of their day and life."

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