Rainier Valley, zip code 98118—famed as the most diverse zip code in America according to the 2000 census. This neighborhood is often lauded for its diversity. Yet, diversity does not always entail peaceful coexistence. In fact, segregation organizes the restaurants, houses of worship, and living accommodations. 

Every Wednesday morning, I go to the Rainier Valley Food Bank as a representative of Lettuce Link’s Seattle Community Farm. Every Wednesday, I witness racism, oppression, indignity, and condescension. The volunteers sneer at the food bank clients’ inability to speak English and accuse them of dishonesty. Verbal abuse is conversation.
                                     “She doesn’t know how to speak English.”

                       “She only understands what she wants to understand.”

   “You just said you didn’t want the chicken. You changed your mind. Fine, take it.”

               “Stay back! I hate it when people get up all in my face like that.”

Wednesday at the Rainier Valley Food Bank is for the elderly and disabled. These volunteers are attacking one of the most vulnerable groups of people. Moreover, the volunteers are food bank clients themselves. Yet, rather than compassion of shared circumstance, there is bizarre cruelty.

This disrespect for humanity disturbed my most primal senses. After I left that first Wednesday, a thick disgust wrapped around my chest and strangled me. I needed to fix this. I needed humanity. 

I had a beautiful, fatuous plan.  I was going to visit other food banks and synthesize my observations into a proposal for a positive work environment and culturally sensitive volunteer orientation. This dream was crushed in its infantile stages. When I tried to start a dialogue with the food bank manager about the volunteer-client dynamic, the manager, understandably, did not appreciate my critical questions. 

I can still write a proposal, get some practice writing a research paper, do things for my personal improvement, serve myself rather than the community. I can’t give my proposal to the Rainier Valley Food Bank. A college-aged stranger can’t tell this community how to act. I feel powerless, useless, insufficient.


07/30/2013 6:10pm

Victoria, I think this is extremely powerful. Your observations of others' behaviors are so astute and it's terrible that others can't treat people the way they deserve to be treated. Working in a food bank myself, I can see how volunteers would make snap judgments; however, I don't think you should feel powerless. Perhaps there are other ways to get the word out, such as by leaving a report for Lettuce Link about your experience at the Rainier Valley Food Bank. Maybe in the future your organization can work more closely with the food bank management to respect clients' dignity. Your work is VERY meaningfu! You'll be able to bring your experience back to Duke and educate people on hunger issues in the US, which I think is a major step.

08/04/2013 10:53pm

A really refreshing blog post to read. I feel like most of the blogs talk about Seattle with rose-tinted glasses, but your blog post really addresses the issues and struggles you've faced at your work. Thanks for sharing.


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