As I See It: Jaret Lyons, Volunteer

Jaret Lyons, VP of Sales & Operations at Emerald Business Supply, and his wife set out to volunteer at 52 organizations in 52 weeks. From this goal, Mission:Possible was born. This was originally posted on LinkedIn after Jaret volunteered with us on May 24.

UPDATE! I’m excited to share the latest experience from my #missionpossible quest to volunteer at 52 organizations in 52 weeks. This was # 38 on my journey! Yesterday, I volunteered with North Light Community Center in their food pantry in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia. Twice a week, North Light provides both fresh & nonperishable food, as well as other grocery related items, to food insecure households.

This wonderful community service is done through a partnership with Philabundance, with funding from ShopRite and through the #GrocersAgainstHunger Program with the help of Acme Supermarket Roxborough, Target City Line, and Whole Foods Market Plymouth Meeting. Non-perishable items are donated from food drives from over 100 distinct individuals & organizations from the region.

Led by Executive Director Krista Wieder, North Light is also a place where children learn and play in a safe and nurturing environment, teens learn skills to prepare them for college and career opportunities as well as realize their full potential, and families and individuals in need receive critical assistance.

Thank you (and Happy 25th!) to Shontell Moman for coordinating my visit!

As I See It: Diane, Food Pantry Volunteer

I’ve lived in the Roxborough/Manayunk area for most of my life. I even graduated from Roxborough High School! My son and his friends used to come to North Light to hang out and play basketball. It is a true community center.

I began volunteering at North Light about 5 years ago. I had come into talk to Theresa, the Office Manager, about something and saw how much work they were doing and offered to help. Steve, the manager of the food pantry at the time, asked me to come in to help with the books at first. As I worked with Steve and started learning more about the cupboard, he asked me to help with the deliveries of food. One day, it got so busy that he told me to handle the distribution. I’ve been here ever since!

While the food pantry is only open on Mondays and Fridays for a few hours, there’s so much work that goes on behind the scenes. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the food pantry has had to adapt some of our work to accommodate social distancing. While we operated as a shopping model in the past, we are pre-bagging food for pick-up and giving out pre-ordered boxes of canned goods to people. We also began a delivery service for people who are unable to come to the facility, so we pack up food for 32 people and our delivery drivers come to take it to the people who need it. It’s a lot of work, but we manage to get it done. We try to get everything done as soon as possible because we know that sometimes this is the only food people will have in their house. I don’t want them to wait longer than they have to. No one should be worried about what they’re going to eat.

While our participants mainly come for the food, I know a lot of them also look forward to the social interaction. You can tell when someone is just excited to have the chance to laugh and joke with people, especially since we’re all spending so much time at home right now. I love getting to know the clients and learning more about them. It helps us personalize our work. If we know someone has children at home, we try to throw in some things we know they’ll like. Everyone deserves a treat!

I know what it’s like to go to bed hungry at night. Someone helped me then, and I’m helping people now. Paying it forward is my motivation for my work at North Light. If we aren’t there for them, who will be?

Our food pantry is open Monday and Friday afternoons. If you, or someone you know, is in need of food assistance, contact Shontell at smoman@northlightcommunitycenter.org. If you’d like to volunteer with our food pantry, contact Renee at rbanson@northlightcommunitycenter.org. Volunteer opportunities are available on Mondays and Fridays.

As I See It: Renee Banson, NLCC Staff Member

Every time I’m out in the community and meet someone and tell them that I work at North Light, they always fondly say something such as, “I love North Light. If it wasn’t for North Light I don’t know where I’d be today. I grew up at North Light, when Mr. Willard was there.” The memories they recount are filled with mischievous but harmless deeds, funny incidents and how important North Light was to them and their family in general. And the best stories are from those young people who were taken under someone’s wing, kept on the right track and led to where they are today. Many of whom are college graduates or business owners who would never have made it there without our Teen Services having been mentored by someone…Mr. Keith, Mr. Willard or Irene to name a few. Just recently, a young woman received a full basketball scholarship to Millersville University, saying, “Mr. Keith taught me everything about basketball.”

The first time that I came to North Light, I met Irene Madrak, former Executive Director, for lunch and she showed me around as she told me about all the programs they provide for the community. She included the Childcare Programs, Teen Services, Holiday Programs, the Food Cupboard, open gym, recreational activities and the North Light Players.

I was not only impressed but it hit home hard.

I grew up in a very similar working class neighborhood that did not have anything like North Light. I realized that if we had, many of the young people in our neighborhood would not have fallen through the cracks or died young of drug related causes. I was filled with bittersweet emotions: admiration for all North Light did, but sadness for the revelation that very likely, my brother and others would still have been here if we had a neighborhood touchstone like North Light.

Now, having worked here for 6 years, I experience firsthand the direct positive effect we have on families. For example, our affordable childcare program is essential for the health and well-being of families struggling to make ends meet. I still remember clearly a few summers back when I told a woman that we offered financial aid. After I asked what her income was and told her what she would have to pay, she just started to cry, repeating, “I didn’t know how I was going to afford it, but I have to work and wasn’t sure what I was going to do.” She kept repeating the dollar amount I told her, saying “That’s for a week, for both children?” She thanked me profusely and kept saying how relieved she was.

One other day stands out when a mother came to pick up the Christmas gifts for her children from “Adopt a Family,” one of our long standing Holiday Programs. When I pointed to the gifts, she started thanking me repeatedly as she picked up a bag to take to her car. There were tears of joy as she shared that she recently was laid off and separated from her husband. Until she came to NLCC, she didn’t know how she was going to make Christmas happen for her family. This program demonstrates the generosity and caring of the families from our surrounding community who generously contributed to making a “Merry Christmas” for her and her children.

NLCC is full of examples that prove “It takes a village,” which is precisely why I love working here. It makes me happy to be among the wonderful people who help make our village not just work, but flourish.

 I truly believe that if every neighborhood had a North Light, many families would have a guiding light when it seems like there’s no place else to turn.