Earlier this week, the Food Bank emailed us with a question. They had a special project and were wondering if the students would be capable of the precision needed to double-check written invoices against the printed versions. Thinking that the girls would enjoy a break from sorting through donated food in various states of dilapidation and feeling a quiet pride that we had earned their trust enough for them to even ask the question, I double-checked myself to be sure I wasn’t exaggerating the students’ capabilities and then wrote an email back accepting the job.

When we got to the Food Bank on Wednesday, the people with whom I had corresponded were nowhere to be found, and it took a bit of digging to figure out what we were supposed to be doing. We sat in the reception area for a while, chatting and occasionally picking up Spanish language pamphlets to see how well we could do with them as periodically one of the women who works in the front room would report back on the progress she was making and once again apologize for the delay. Eventually, a smiling man in a baseball cap emerged carrying several thick green folders each containing several manilla folders full of papers. “Oh, dear,” I thought and the students’ faces implied as we rose to follow him to the sorting room.

It was meticulous, painstaking, and quite honestly not particularly interesting work. Some of us seemed to fly through folders, perhaps since they had a higher proportion of the unstapled single-copy invoices we didn’t have to check. Other times, one single pair of invoices seemed to take hours. As we needed to concentrate carefully on small details, we didn’t have enough brain power left over for the conversation that usually flows through the afternoon. At one point, I commented, “You’d probably rather have been sorting salvage,” and the students rolled their eyes and agreed. Yet, at several points in time, one of the girls would say, “I feel so bad. They’re giving out so much food!” and the others would nod in agreement. At the volunteer appreciation lunch several weeks ago, we learned that 100,000 people use the Food Bank’s services at one time or another. That’s more than the population of Franklin County, where Stoneleigh-Burnham is located, and means approximately one in three people in Franklin and Hampshire Counties need assistance at some point in time. Volunteers help sort over 1.2 million pounds of food each year as their contribution to helping out. However boring sorting the invoices might have been, it did give us some perspective on how vitally important the work we do can be even though we never (knowingly) see the faces of the people we are helping.

Meanwhile, at the Dakin-Pioneer Valley Humane Society, when we showed up at our regular time one Thursday this spring, they looked surprised and a bit flustered. “We thought you were on vacation,” they said. I explained that the public schools were on break, but we went all the way through summer vacation. I asked if it was a problem we were there, and they said no, not at all. As we turned to go sign in, I overheard one of them saying, “I’ll start calling people and telling them they don’t need to come after all.”

It’s always nice to know you make a difference.