by Karen Powers, Local Coordinator, Arizona
“I never thought someone would have to go to a clothing bank to get a baby diaper! I couldn’t believe how much they need our help!” wrote Mona (Momina) Shahid, YES student from Pakistan, after volunteering at ICM Food and Clothing Bank on our Cluster’s “National Day of Service” for Global Youth Service Day.
At least 9 times during the year, our Cluster volunteers at ICM. It’s become such a wonderful part of our chapter that many volunteers join us. “Witnessing their commitment to helping others, and their interest in learning more about developing a food bank in their home countries, has been a truly rewarding experience,” says North Valley AFS Chapter president Cindy Gort.
ICM Food and Clothing Bank (also known as Interfaith Cooperative Ministries), provides necessities for 100 families every day, six days a week – 100,000 individuals each year. These are things most of us take for granted…Food, clothing, shoes, soap, shampoo, baby formula and diapers. Plus, they offer free medical clinic services once a month. ICM also provides case management and a link to jobs for those who are “between jobs” or are underemployed.
In the early 1970’s, several churches and synagogues were attempting to fill the gaps in services to the working poor and homeless in the downtown Phoenix area. They started sharing their resources, and by 1982, when a local utility company was persuaded to donate a building, the clothing banks and emergency relief services were combined under the name Interfaith Cooperative Ministries. The initial supporting congregations, plus about 30 more, are still counted among ICM’s “angels.”
Our services are provided by volunteers.
We treat people with dignity.
We are interfaith; we do not proselytize.
We recognize and value diversity.
We promote self-sufficiency.
We instill hope.
The biggest benefit of using ICM for our community service is the attitude of Executive Director Renea Gentry. She takes time outside her regular work week to meet with our exchange students. She educates them about how the nonprofit began and how it operates day-to-day, how it’s funded, how it works in conjunction with other local providers of social services – and especially, how it manages to keep loyal and enthusiastic volunteers.
Renea feels that the AFS-SP students give a lot back, too. “It brings us the sense that these young, bright energetic students are more than willing to help – and to understand our method of assisting those less fortunate. The AFS groups are able to see first-hand how America’s government doesn’t take care of everybody’s needs, but relies on non-profits to do a lot of that work.”
Because Renea recognizes the maturity of our Sponsored Programs students, she allows them to work on ‘intake’, talking one-on-one, registering the clients in the computers, and finding out what they need at each visit to ICM. “When people told me about their reasons to be there, I could never stop thinking about them and their stories,” Mona said.
A YES student volunteering alongside Mona on our National Day of Service was Pranoy Roy from Bangladesh. During his YES AFS year, Pranoy has utilized his artistic skills to benefit others. For instance, as a fund raiser at Sunrise Mountain High School, students paid for Pranoy’s personalized ‘graffiti’ art; he also provided his artwork for our Chapter’s raffle. And he designed the bright t-shirts you see our volunteers wearing in the photos! The shirts contain the logos of AFS and the State Department sponsored programs the cluster is hosting: YES and Congress-Bundestag.
Other sponsored program students helping at ICM were, in addition to Mona (Momina) Shahid from Pakistan and Pranoy Roy from Bangladesh: Lucy Schreiber (CB-Germany), Rudra Chauhan from India, Adi (Mohammad) Nugroho from Pakistan and Petia Davidova from Bulgaria. Julie Mueller (CB) couldn't attend.
As Cluster Coordinator I really felt that we were accomplishing our mission when Mona told me, “I never did volunteer work like this back in Pakistan, so I never got the feeling of helping a stranger who really needs help. . . Now, I want to be a helping hand because a lot of people in Pakistan need organizations like ICM. Thanks to AFS for introducing me to ICM and opening our eyes to the real world.”