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Food is donated to Bread for the City by various organizations and people in the Washington community. (Courtesy Photo)

WASHINGTON – They are all so very different.  One is a retiree.  Another is a mere 18 years old.  One returned home recently after years in Vermont.  Another is a recent transplant. They were brought together by one place, Bread for the City, an agency that feeds and gives medical and legal care to thousands of low-income Washington residents.

Mary Carter couldn’t bare sitting around her house on W Street after she retired from the senior citizen home she worked in for many years. She needed a way to keep herself busy. Bread for the City became her outlet. Carter began volunteering at the agency last year and has been working in the organization’s food pantry three days out of the week.

She and others are responsible for sorting, stocking, and bagging white potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, granola bars, canned goods, and sugar-free beverages for the clients to take home and share with their families. The food is donated to Bread for the City by various organizations and people in the Washington community. The volunteers also are responsible for searching through large boxes filled of food and canned goods to remove any unhealthy junk food.

Carter said the satisfaction she gets from helping others is better than any amount of money, lessons she passes onto her 8-year-old granddaughter. “There is always someone doing way worst than you are,” she  said. “If someone has helped you, you should always help others.”

Adriene Perkins, 18, is a freshman at Howard University.  Perkins, who volunteered at a food bank in her hometown Atlanta, brought her will to serve with her to D.C.  She said when she handed a bag of food to a struggling mother of three recently, the mother’s excitement of having fresh produce brought joy to her heart. “Seeing the smiles on the clients’ faces makes everything worthwhile,” she said. “It was great to know my small four hours of time can help someone in need.”

During the warmer months, the volunteers are responsible for growing fresh fruits and vegetables on the organization’s rooftop garden.

Bread for Life began 41 years ago  as a free medical clinic in a cramped basement with three examining rooms and a $30,000 budget.  It now serves 33,000 clients annually  at two Washington locations – one in northwest at 1525 Seventh St. and the other in southwest at 1640 Good Hope Road.

Kristen Kozlowski, associate director of development for the organization, said 92 percent of its clients are African American and 5 percent are Hispanic, while 62  percent of the clients are women with children under age 18.

Volunteers are vital in the operation of this organization, whose work one year brought President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and their two daughters to the center to help out one Thanksgiving Day. Molly Cielinski, Georgetown University sophomore, said, “I come every week to get out of Georgetown and see what other people are experiencing.”

Cielinski, 20, started out wanting to explore the Logan Circle and Shaw area when she learned about Bread for the City.  Her adventure, she said, turned into a life changing experience. “It is all worth it when you see people who need food, leaving with it,” she said.

Hannah Lehrenbaun, 22, is another regular volunteer. Lehrenbaun is a recent graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont and she returned home to Washington to help those less fortunate in her own “backyard,” she said. “I love the workers, clients and fellow volunteers. There is a real need for food in this area and I am glad to help those who need it most.”

For information on how to volunteer, call 202.265.2400 in northwest Washington and 202.561.8587 for the southwest facility.