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From Struggle to Strength, to Service

From Struggle to Strength, to Service
November 22, 2016 VolunteersFood Pantry

By Lauren Werner, MOM Volunteer
Article Based on Interview with Christopher Morris

On a bright fall Saturday morning, Middleton Outreach Ministry Food Pantry is humming with activity.  Parents place shopping bags of groceries in car trunks, children wait expectantly.  The wind picks up.  Leaves are turning.  Winter is not far off.  Inside, clients meander through the food section, and families select soccer cleats, jeans, and home goods in the clothing area.  MOM volunteers work intently.  From across the room, I catch a glimpse of volunteer Christopher Morris, who greets me with a warm smile. 

Christopher Morris, VolunteerI immediately felt welcomed and at ease.  Welcoming, I was to learn that day, is one of the aspects Chris enjoys most about his volunteer role at MOM.   Chris’ journey has not always been as positive as his self-assured demeanor would imply.  The story he was about to share with me that crisp morning is about a man leaving the past behind, and at the same time honoring he has become because of it.

Christopher Morris spent his childhood in southern Illinois, enduring the strain of poverty.  His experiences include being hungry and feeling ashamed to receive government staples of cheese as a simple remedy for a complex struggle. These times made a deep impression on Chris as a small child.  He enjoyed school until his teen years, when life at home became too painful.  Today he reflects on not finishing high school, when only a few months stood between him and graduation.  “I needed to get away from an unhealthy situation.”  He joined the Army and served as a cook for the troops in Germany, and later as part of NATO peacekeeping forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  “My sergeant told me ‘There are three things that are most important to soldiers: a paycheck, mail, and food.”  Chris changed his life by serving to others the very thing he lacked growing up.

At MOM, Chris welcomes clients, and helps them shop at the food pantry. The selections of food are displayed in an array, much like a small grocery store.  Despite the variety and the open environment, the experience can be overwhelming for people.  Using his Army training as inspiration, Chris finds it natural to offer a recipe or food tips here and there.  “You oughta try this, it’s great: Just pour some salad dressing on the chicken and toss it on the grill.  Delicious!”  He tells a story of a mom and three children who visited the pantry recently.  He saw the all-too familiar discomfort in the children’s faces.  “As a volunteer, nothing beats walking a family through a food pantry for the first time.  To me, volunteering means being the smiling face to families who are stressed.  I just say, “Let’s get some food.  It’s going to be alright.”

Chris’ volunteer spirit comes from his experience. He can still feel and understand the heavy weight of poverty.  Having had the ability overcome his circumstances, he earned his college degree, with honors.  He works in Madison and has a family.  Volunteering at MOM is a true gift to the clients, and is part of Chris’ own journey.  He feels he can use the fabric of his life, the good and not so good, to be an ambassador of sorts, at the pantry.  “Personally - and this comes from my own past--I never want anyone to feel ashamed or embarrassed about being here . And that comes down to being kind, respectful and treating everyone like a new friend.”

Each one of us carries a story.  What, in the story of your life inspires you to live out the strengths that have emerged from the struggle?   A gift to MOM can have many forms.  Some share the financial resources that come from work.  Others serve by reaching out with a kind hand as a volunteer.  Please join the MOM community in your own way, with your own story, to be part of someone else’s journey to a stronger place.


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