Laura Malinchock and her son were rummaging through the garage one day, when he picked up a discarded backpack. “My friend at school doesn’t have one,” he said. “We should give it to him.”
It was a wake-up call for Laura, who had moved with her family from Yardley, a suburban town in Pennsylvania, where families, as far they knew, had everything they needed. Proud of her son for realizing that there were children who weren’t equipped even basically for school, she began to view her new community differently.
“In Yardley,” she tells me, “I’d volunteered in my children’s school, but we were kind of in a bubble. Across the river was Trenton, New Jersey, and we never really considered the far greater needs of families there.”
Laura grew up in a military family, so she was used to being moved around quite a bit. But her grandfather was from Wilmington, North Carolina, where she still has relatives, and part of her heritage is the tradition of crossing community lines.
“My grandfather owned a timber mill,” she tells me, “and one of the workers was a minister in a small African-American church. Whenever it was a special occasion, my mother remembers, her father would pack up his big family and attend to hear the man’s wonderful sermons.”
Anywhere you are, we agree, opportunities are there for seeing beyond yourself and your immediate “bubble”, but it takes reaching out to get to them.
Laura’s husband’s family was from Pennsylvania, so they began their family in the pretty, Eastern part of that state. But having people in North Carolina brought them here, she says.
Coincidentally and fortunately, her move south found her in Susan Romaine’s neighborhood. “Susan came over to introduce herself one day,” Laura remembers, “and roped me in to PORCH!” Laura is too modest about the role she plays in the seamless delivery of food to the 15 organizations PORCH serves (did you know, by the way, that half of those organizations count on PORCH donations for 75% – 100% of their pantry supplies?). But the best people find themselves doing the work they are most talented for, it seems.
At the time Laura met Susan, PORCH was being run out of their neighborhood garages, people leaving their items to find their way into someone’s yard, then into cars to distribute to schools, programs, and families. Soon, though, the need for PORCH grew beyond driveways, and when the site at St. Thomas More became available for sorting and packing, someone had to step up to the task of making sure that the repacked food got where it was needed. Though Laura says, “I guess I was the only one who raised her hand to volunteer for that!” I think it was rather more a matter of fate.
In the PORCH sort in the church activities hall on second Mondays, you recognize Laura easily. She’s the one, erase-board marker in hand, who travels from table to table, ensuring that each organization has the number of bags it needs for the month, and then darting over to the erase board between the doors, where her chart of recipients, number of bags, drivers and addresses waits to be filled in so that each site has someone to deliver those bags.
From one pantry practically around the corner to two in the far reaches of Hillsborough, the geographical spread of where food is needed is a challenge to negotiate. Some months the board fills up painlessly (almost!) with driving volunteers, but others find Laura pleading for names to fill the spaces.
If you have never delivered for Laura on Mondays, it’s worth signing up just to see her huge, grateful smile as she turns to write your name on the board.
“PORCH is a great volunteer experience,” Laura muses, “especially because people can come to help any time they are able. But our turnout, unlike our food needs, is seasonal. In fall and winter, especially around the holidays, we have lots of help, and people are more aware of the need to care for others. However in summer, when children who are nutritionally challenged don’t have their breakfast and lunch taken care of on school days, we have more need for more donated food, but fewer volunteers…people go on vacation or to summer homes. It’s never an even number of expected helpers.”
Of course, she adds, “summer also brings out the high school students who have daytime free to help, both to sort and (the older ones) to deliver, so that helps a lot.”
Laura also worries about recruiting more neighborhood coordinators so that food supplies are kept up all year round. That is something PORCH is already working on, in their usual well-coordinated way.
“PORCH has been doing a three-month survey of our Neighborhood Coordinators,” Laura explains, “charting who is dropping off food from which neighborhoods. After that data is collected, we’ve asked the high school students to help map where the active neighborhoods are…then we’ll be able to focus on which neighborhoods are missing, and we can try to find someone in each to expand our donation area.”
Though she quickly credits Debbie Horwitz for being the overall Logistical Genius (“Debbie could run Fed Ex worldwide! She’s amazing…and it’s such a labor of love for her.”), it’s Laura who keeps things moving out one neighbor’s door and into another. Another logician to be grateful for in the PORCH community.
Written by: Rachel Victoria Mills