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Service Highlight: Food Distribution Planning

Saiham Sharif is the AmeriCorps VISTA member in the Family Engagement Taskforce Coordinator position. This role has looked different during the pandemic, when many family engagement programs have been suspended. Saiham has dedicated some of his time to shoring up efforts meant to reach and support families, such as the Time to Eat! Grinnell food distributions. He shared his thoughts about his involvement for AmeriCorps Week.

Share a little with us about your role in the food distribution project:

In the past few months, I've been helping with the back-end of the Food Distribution through the Grinnell Food Coalition, who agreed to act as a distribution point for the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farms to Families program. Early on, we struggled with some uncertainty since we didn't know for sure if the USDA would carry out this program. My initial efforts focused on making a spreadsheet of different agencies within the particularly rural and small towns in Jasper and Poweshiek county. From that point, my work shifted towards the following: conducting some outreach; creating a form that captured agency contact details, the number of boxes requested, and preferred pick-up times; and supplementing Grace Morrison's efforts with formatting the master order form used on the day of distribution.

Why is this project important to the community? To you?

Traditionally, my role as the Family Engagement Taskforce Coordinator would entail building connections with different folks interacting with the school district - families, teachers, administrators, students, and others - but remote working has made it difficult to build the quality of relationships that physically meeting can provide.

I'm glad that I can work on making those connections while directing my service towards other capacity building projects such as the food distribution project, which touches some of the deeper issues related to education. Additionally, doing behind-the-scenes work has helped me learn some new skills with project management and communication. I'm grateful for the opportunity to feel useful.

What has been your favorite part of this project?

One of my favorite parts of the project has been witnessing it progress from an idea with a tentative plan to a live effort. In our twice-a-month distribution events, over 25 agencies have picked up roughly 900 boxes to then take to their communities and the other several hundred of boxes have gone to individuals. I have also enjoyed organizing the final spreadsheet and witnessing that food is going to several neighboring communities that would otherwise be food insecure.

What is the best part of being an AmeriCorps member at GEP?

The sense of camaraderie that's been built within the GEP AmeriCorps cohort and the Office of Community Engagement and Enhancement has been heartening. I look forward to our meetings as relief from social isolation, and it has been wonderful to watch each of us grow.

Thank you for your work to help students in the Grinnell area, Saiham!


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