Expiration Dates: A Reflection After Volunteering

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Written By: Trinity Long, NFWM’s 2024 Summer Duke Divinity Intern

One of the effects of attending seminary is how analytical my mind has become, for better or worse. I am quick to critique the work of the Church within the larger society and their works of charity. So often the Church, myself included, does not take responsibility for the injustices people are experiencing. It can feel both discouraging and insurmountable at times, and I want to escape this discomfort by resorting to a solution of policy and advocacy first. I am often tempted to feel that our systems are too big and powerful for small actions to mean anything. There may be a small line of truth in this way of thinking, but it is not helpful, and there is always hope for change. Institutions need to change for the better, and works of charity must meet the present needs. NFWM came out of Migrant Ministries to focus on Farm Worker rights and systematic change, which we are still doing. Moreover, when I went to the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry (EFWM), I was reminded of the importance of the ministry of charity. 

As someone who has recently moved to the South, I am always surprised by the increase in humidity as the summer dawns. I was thankful when Patty, EFWM’s Volunteer Coordinator, told us we were volunteering in an air-conditioned building. When I walked into the bodega, I was surprised by both the organization and resources that were in there. It is a place that is trying to meet every need but often does not have the manpower to go to the extent in which they desire. There was obvious thoughtfulness and care by our hosts for the people they worked with. As Spanish music played over the stereo, I was reminded of home, and the beat helped me find a rhythm for the task at hand. The music reminded me that I had not danced in a couple of weeks, and the drum of the batacha called to the movement of my knee bouncing in my chair. 

Every time I was sorting between the expired and unexpired items, I could not help but think about how much waste we have in America. But also the way that Americans will give away their excessive things to charity as a heartfelt way to feel better about themselves. For every item we sorted, we carefully had to look through the expiration date. There were at least three tubs of items that would have expired and would have to be separated from the rest of the materials. This was a hard realization that sometimes resources could not be given to farm workers in time, or people were given items that had already expired because even substandard resources were better than empty baskets. 

One of the most surprising realizations that I had was when there were various medicines that we sorted through that needed to be given out to farm workers. Even though I knew of the barriers to farm workers, it didn’t dawn on me the gravity of the situation. Many farm workers could not read the English labels to even know which medicines they could take and must be explained. There are also sicknesses traveling through the camps and the need for medicine due to the ways that the crops and sun affect their bodies. Truthfully, I am quite terrified of bugs and Julie Taylor, NFWM Executive Director, had to save me a couple of times. As I sat on the cold concrete floor sorting out combs from shampoos, and medicines from toothpaste, I could not help but be thankful that my couple of hours of volunteering were in a safe environment. I had not only shade and water freely given, but I could take a break whenever necessary. I take for granted when I am treated with the bare minimum of human respect and ignore when human beings are treated as commodities. How could my privileged experience know any different?  Perhaps every time I grab my toothpaste, I will pause for one more second, and consider my actions. This small experience with EFWM in rural North Carolina made me realize that I may not be mentally or emotionally prepared to visit labor camps with organizers, my heart may not be able to take it and walk away unchanged. Then I have to ask myself the question, isn’t that the point?


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