If you’ve ever thought about volunteering at Feeding America Tampa’s warehouse– this is what you should expect. Start stretching your shoulders now.

Truck outside“Make way! Here’s more!” I heaved more than a dozen boxes of pre-made Brownie Mix and raced to another container filled with soup cans. The date! Where was the expiration date?! More boxes waited impatiently behind me. The Feeding America Warehouse wasn’t going to sort itself.

We don’t volunteer enough.
I’m not talking about volunteering to help your sorority decorate its next showcase. If you can afford to buy your lunch today and last night you felt safe as you slept, then I bet you can afford to give up some time to help those not as blessed as you. But ah—this isn’t a post dedicated to scolding. This post is for doing.

It was this idea of paying forward blessings that led my SFC group to the Feeding America warehouse within the industrial side of South Tampa.
Lindsey, our Feeding America contact, led us past a cavernous warehouse and into the smaller “sorting room” about the size of a classroom where she quickly gave us the low down.
The organization receives many about-to-expire goods purged from area grocery stores. It was up to us get rid of the bad and categorize the good before the items could be transported to area food banks.

The sorting room
Partner Shoes waiting for more boxes to appear at the center

I learned acceptable goods: bruised packages (like dented cans) are still safe as long as it wasn’t leaking and items all needed labels. Then like Hogwart’s Sorting Hat we divided the items into categories. Perhaps the most interesting part involved the expiration dates.

Yup... this item is still good
Yup… this item is still good

A chart above each category simply stated that even if an item was expired, as long as the date fell within the allotted time (differs for each item) then it was still good-to-go! No smell test required! I was definitely going to use that system for my own pantry items at home.

An empty rowWork time! At the room’s center, machines continuously brought in boxes filled with items to sort. Like ants we’d scurry all over the stacks, chucking them at each other, searching for expiration dates, and placing items in the appropriate category. Once those containers were filled they had to be carried to a nearby scale, marked, and other helpers would place it back in the warehouse. ARRRGGGggggh, some tasks were not for the weak in muscle. Why oh why were things like the “juice container” – sure to get filled with heavy liquids—placed higher and further back than the snacks bin—a typically lighter container.

Our tasks at Feeding America were a different type of “feeding the hungry” because we never see the faces of the recipients. But it’s probably also one of the easiest places to volunteer at because the work load can easily be adjusted for a volunteer of one to a group of… many, many more. Best suited for middle-schoolers and above.

The warehouse
Look at how big this warehouse is! All with donated items.

Although it wasn’t a race, I wanted to get as many boxes unloaded, sorted, and shipped during my three-hour stay. Sometimes my little group stood clueless in looking for an empty container to refill and other times we were practically throwing grocery items at each other in a sudden, excited, crazed enthusiasm. When I left, I was SO HUNGRY from watching all this food go by—but at least I didn’t have to worry about where my next meal would come from. That evening my shoulders hurt a bit from all the lifting—but it was just a tiny sacrifice.

I can’t promise I will volunteer more—but simple work like this makes it easier to. The hardest part is just getting up and doing it.

Go ahead and click on any of the photos to view my album.

Feeding America Tampa
4702 Transport Drive, Building 6
Tampa, FL 33605
(813) 254-1190

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