300 Meals Later

“Volunteering” can be a vague term, and it can be hard to figure out where to start. Beyond that, many people aren’t sure what their volunteer experience will look like. How many hours are they expected to put in? What sort of skill sets will they need? Who will they be helping?

For someone in this position, Beans Café offers short and frequent shifts throughout the day with an organized staff and ample parking. The on-site aids are accustomed to quickly training newcomers before the shift starts.

“Anyone and everyone [can volunteer],” Zachary Lasiter, the café’s volunteer coordinator and UAA alumnus, said.

Bean’s Café volunteers serve food during the lunch shift on Jan. 30. Photo credit: Christian Cielo

He adds that the only requirement for Bean’s Café is being 18 years old. Though the café accepts special skillsets, they do not expect them of volunteers.

During the Tuesday lunch shift, volunteers who served food stood in front of a buffet line, with each volunteer given only one or two items to scoop at a time. Once serving started, things moved quickly. First, the volunteers from earlier shifts received their trays, followed by the elderly and disabled, followed by all the other patrons.

With Daren Cole, Bean’s Café staff member, at the helm, the shift went smoothly and over 250 patrons received a tray of rice, turkey, green beans and bread. Many were able to come back for seconds, the steam rising off of their plates as they head for their tables in the dining room.

“Happy Thanksgiving to us,” a man in line called out as he grabbed his tray.

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Cole also knew many of the patrons, either by face or by name.

“You might catch somebody who hasn’t been around in a while, and they come back,” Cole said.

Then, he geared up for the next round of volunteers, a mother-daughter team who arrived just before the building experienced a power outage. Beth Beveridge said that she’s volunteered at other places with her daughter, but this was her first time at Beans Café.

“[We’re] expecting to help and get a feel for it,” Beveridge said. Her daughter nodded, adding that they expected it to be fun as well.

Cole says that weekday shifts are currently the most needed ones, as weekend shifts are often easy to fill. Lasiter adds that Friday morning shifts at the Children’s Lunchbox, Beans Café’s partner kitchen that serves children in Title I schools around the Anchorage School District, are always in need of volunteers. According to him, they deliver between 2,500 to 4,000 meals on these days.

If a student can’t volunteer with their time due to scheduling conflicts, Beans Café accepts donations.

“Toilet paper, coffee, canned fruit, canned veggies, fresh fruit, fresh veggies,” Cole said, listing off the items that they are typically in need of.

Lasiter says that both kitchens operate on a seven-day rule, in which donated foods are used within seven days of being dropped off.

Cole adds that donators would be wise to avoid food items that they may only receive in small amounts, such as pumpkin or squash. They cannot use non-perishable food items until they have enough of it to feed a full round of patrons, which he says can reach up to 350 people in the colder parts of winter.

Lasiter believes that there are inherent rewards for students volunteering.

“It’s real easy to go through that portion of your life without really being exposed to all facets of society,” Lasiter said. “By volunteering at Beans Café, you get to meet a portion of your community that you might not necessarily get to see [otherwise].”

Beans Café is at 1101 E Third Ave. in downtown Anchorage. Shift sign-ups can be found online at www.beanscafe.org. Morning shifts typically start at 7 a.m. In early May, they accept volunteers for the Beans Café community garden.