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East County teen learns valuable life lessons while lending a hand at food pantry

COURTESY PHOTO: BRAD BUSIEK  - Phoebe Busiek packings boxes full of food to hand out. When Phoebe Busiek's father came to her last December and asked her to help at the East County Food Pantry, Busiek said she really didn't have any strong feelings about volunteering.

Busiek, a freshman at Barlow High School, said her dad's initial request didn't conjure any powerful images of community service.

"My dad asked, 'Do you want to volunteer today,'" Busiek recalled. "He just needed a bit more volunteers that week and I was like 'Sure.'"

Busiek jumped in to help her dad's cause, having no idea it would lead to a key role for the pantry and plant the seed that grew into a passion for volunteering.

To be clear, Phoebe's dad is the Rev. Brad Busiek, pastor at Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church. He also hosts the East County Food Pantry from the church. Despite the vested interest, Pheobe said there was no pressure to join from her father.

Getting started

Whether or not there was a push toward volunteering, once Busiek got into the work her love for the pantry grew into weekly participation on Saturdays.

"After you get started it just starts to flow really nicely," Busiek said. "You get to know people and it's a great way to help the community." COURTESY PHOTO: BRAD BUSIEK  - Busiek and two friends organizing produce at the East County Food Pantry.

When summer came, she started helping the pantry on Thursdays and Fridays on top of her usual Saturdays. Some of her friends noticed how much time she was spending at the pantry and wanted to see what it was all about.

"A lot of my friends were like, 'Hey would you mind if we joined,'" Busiek said. "Then when they got into it they started really liking it."

On top of having her friends help at the pantry, Busiek also designed a service week for youths at the church's summer Bible School where they would help pack meals.

A day in the life

On average, the East County Food Pantry can provide up to 185 households with food on Saturdays. That day requires a great deal of set up, planning and devoted volunteers.

Busiek said that on a typical donation Saturday, she gets to the food pantry around 8:30 a.m. to set up tables. Around 9 a.m. she and other volunteers unload the food that was delivered and check the quality of the produce. From 11 a.m. to around 12:30 p.m. it is all about handing out boxes of food.

On Thursdays and Fridays, Busiek and other volunteers help pack food that will be delivered to families and people who aren't able to make it to the pantry themselves.

With all of the work that goes into it, Busiek said that a surprising gift of working at the pantry has been the relationships she makes with other volunteers.

"You get to form so many connections to the community," Busiek said. "All the volunteers are super nice and caring."

Busiek said that the friendships she made with other volunteers has been a great bonus, but what has kept her coming back has been the relationships from the people and families she has served. "There are some clients at the food pantry who are just super sweet," said Busiek. " And even though we see each other only once a week, it is just nice to make that connection."

Bright future

Phoebe made herself so indispensable at the pantry that her dad was worried how the pantry would function without her. COURTESY PHOTO: BRAD BUSIEK  - Busiek and fellow volunteers packing up cars full of food to be delivered to families who cant get to the pantry.

"I do like to share how helpful she was on those Thursdays and Fridays," Brad Busiek said. "But honestly, in some sense, we really did need to hire someone when she went to school."

Although Busiek doesn't help at the pantry as often as she used to, she still tries to come by every other Saturday and looks forward to helping others in her future.

"I would say volunteering is in my future," Phoebe Busiek said. "I want to be a teacher, and I feel like volunteering at the East County Food Pantry has helped out my people skills and just working with strangers."

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