Each month at the PORCH sort, we who can volunteer to show up at the gathering and distributions sites around the city to handle the many tasks of helping get food to people in need. Most have been volunteering faithfully for PORCH for a long time; many are stalwart PORCH collectors in their neighborhoods. New volunteers are welcomed each time, brought in by the enthusiasm of their neighbors. Behind the scenes, as well, are volunteers we don’t often see, except in the summer months when school is out and young people from all over the area come to the sorts.
Did you know that there is a recognized school activity for high school students called PORCH Club? Though it has a faculty sponsor, it’s organized by students, planned and coordinated by students, and full of the energy that the young have when there is a social problem to be solved. PORCH is lucky to have them.
Norman Xie, a rising senior at East Chapel Hill High School, thought it would be interesting to see what PORCH was about. He’d worked some for another nutrition program in Carrboro, so he already had an idea of the need for supporting families that aren’t as fortunate. He grew up in Chapel Hill, and bikes everywhere. Still, PORCH has managed to teach him a lot about its different communities and how he can connect with them. “You know?” he says, “here I feel like I’m helping people [he hesitates a minute finding the right words]… and that, that gives meaning to what I’m doing.” Clearly, Norman is a young man who knows inherently what matters.
Meanwhile, he’s applying for colleges (he is hoping to find himself at UNC-Chapel Hill, studying biology for medical school later on) and going on with his own activities, like ultimate Frisbee. “I play the piano, too,” he mentions, explaining that he is not only taking lessons but playing in venues once in a while. There isn’t yet a PORCH club at his school, so he wants to get one started this year.
Enter Sydney Runkle, from Chapel Hill High School, who began her PORCH activities as a freshman (she’s a rising junior now). “I was looking for volunteer opportunities,” she says, especially in what she calls “human security”. Wow. That’s quite an insightful way of expressing what a good community affords all its people: a safe place to live, food for nourishment, education, work, shared resources. PORCH appeared quickly in her view.
As a sophomore, she became the coordinator of PORCH Club at CHHS. There are about 50 students involved, she counts, and about 20 consistent participants, which she’s hoping this year to raise to the whole 50. Sydney, you can tell, has the kind of organization skills in her blood that the founders of PORCH run in theirs. The club gets together every few weeks for a lunchtime meeting, where she introduces PORCH, runs through logistics for the next events, gathers ideas, and signs up new members. Activities are as much fun as they are helpful: between sort months, they make cheerful holiday cards to tuck into the bags of nonperishable food, bake cookies to distribute to kids in the schools…. “It meant a lot to me to be able to distribute them myself this time”…and participate in the snack drive for children.
This year, she has plans to get the club started on letter-writing campaigns to city, state and national official urging them to recognize the issues of hunger and security, locally and nationally.
So, what is the appeal of PORCH club to students? Sydney thinks that helping hunger relief among the people who live around you is the main draw. She recruits volunteers from friends, parents, and friends of friends. Some students join for volunteer credits, but very soon they see the importance of what they are doing. It’s not difficult to see that Sydney is a leader in the best sense of the word. She never forgets the needs of the people she is working for, and she sees the possibilities in others to make solutions possible. Those values are evident when she speaks about what motivates her.
PORCH, she says, has taught her about community. “Those days I get to help PORCH are my favorite times of the month. Everyone is so welcoming, everyone works together so well. Most of all, it’s eye-opening…enlightening…to know there is a real way you can help people.”
It’s a message both Norman and Sydney hope their elders among us will spread to their children and grandchildren, by word and example. It’s already obvious, though, that PORCH’s future is in good hands.
Rachel Victoria Mills