Written by Emily Irsik
REFLECTIONS FROM AN INTERN
Topeka Rescue Mission (TRM) will forever have an impact on my heart. Coming from Manhattan, Kansas with a major in Nutrition and Health, I was not sure what to expect for the summer. However, TRM and the Operation Food Secure (OFS) staff far exceeded my expectations. I have found a family here that is based on fellowship and faith.
I was matched with OFS through the “The Zero Hunger Internship” program at The Congressional Hunger Center. This internship program offers leadership development and professional experience with anti-hunger and advocacy work to college students and recent graduates from across the country. I was fortunate to be chosen as one of seventeen Zero Hunger Interns to serve in the Summer 2021 class.
Alleviating food insecurity has always been something I have been passionate about. Since the age of 10, my dream has been to work for the Peace Corps. Since then, my ambition to help those in need has only grown. Before my experience with TRM, I have volunteered with impact organizations that have a vision to end extreme poverty. However, I have never been involved in working directly with the homeless population. Getting to hear stories from this diverse population has been something that I will never forget. TRM solidified my interest to help struggling individuals regain trust in themselves and others.
My primary responsibility as the OFS intern was to create an educational pamphlet that would help families better utilize the produce in the food boxes they were receiving. I wanted to create a pamphlet that would help individuals understand the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables, and how they play a significant role in their physical health. I took note of the consistent food items in the boxes and developed a corresponding recipe and nutrition fact that provided effective ways to store food long-term. In the end, I found the pamphlet to be more than just a piece of paper. It was a way to connect volunteers, site captains, and recipients to each other. It opened the door to further conversation and for that I am grateful.
The educational factor that TRM offers their interns was an unexpected gift. I have been amazed to meet individuals who have shared their stories and struggles with things like drug use, domestic abuse, and homelessness. There was one individual who I encountered while serving with the Mobile Access Partnership team. This person completely changed my perspective on homelessness. A key takeaway from this conversation was the use of the word “humble”. He spoke about how humble he is now because of his experiences being homeless. He also made a point to say that he believes that everyone should experience being homeless just for a day so that they gain perspective on the trials and tribulations individuals face. He seemed hopeful for the future and put his life in God's hands. Getting to experience the honor of hearing stories like this is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I have learned so much about myself during this internship. I have gained invaluable skills that I will take with me in all my future endeavors. My self-efficacy in project leadership, communication, and team-building have all increased. I was unaware that I lacked the ability to completely put my heart into a team until I came to TRM. Prior to working with the OFS staff, I was the type of person who would rather do tasks myself than ask for help. The OFS volunteers and staff taught me the importance of working in a team and the benefits it has. Without a working team, the distributions and deliveries would not have been possible. The outside perspective that the volunteers brought to the table was refreshing. They all came from different backgrounds, but without their diverse knowledge, I do not think that the OFS program would have thrived as it did. Getting to work alongside volunteers and staff that are so compassionate and enthused with this population was refreshing.
God has shown me many graces and the OFS team and TRM as a whole, are grand examples of this. As I return to Kansas State University this fall to complete my degree in Nutrition and Health, I will bring with me all the skills and knowledge I have gained. I have learned the importance of networking, communicating expectations, and the overall importance of empathetically listening. I plan to apply for the Peace Corps, along with other fellowships this fall, and fulfill my 10-year-old self’s dream. I have always had a heart for change, I just was unsure of the steps to take to make change occur. Before this internship I knew I wanted to work in food security, however, TRM showed me a new light and that is on the homeless population. I hope that through my life I can portray the word “humble” and honor the individuals who were so generously willing to share their stories.