Milford student heads to volunteer role at Arizona food bank

Christine Walsh of Milford will spend the next year volunteering with a community food bank in Tucson, Ariz.

Christine Walsh of Milford will spend the next year volunteering with a community food bank in Tucson, Ariz.

Contributed photo / Holly Foster

MILFORD — After graduating from Hamilton College, Milford native Christine Walsh was looking for an opportunity to serve others on a daily basis. She found it with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

“Service is a very humbling opportunity, but more than that, it allows you to connect with people on a deeper level,” said Walsh. “Service is one of the greatest acts of love.”

Walsh will be spending the next year volunteering at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona as an abundant harvest coordinator specialist. That means she will work as part of a grower’s cooperative of about 150 farmers participating in a weekly farmers market for low-income families in the Tucson area.

“As abundant harvest cooperative specialist, I hope to gain essential program management skills to successfully plan weekly farmers markets during the transition from drive-through to (hopefully) in-person visits,” said Walsh. “I hope this year will be one of observation and action.”

The Jesuit Volunteer Corps is an organization of lay volunteers who devote a year or more to community service in poor communities. Walsh said she was drawn to the corps’ core values of Jesuit spirituality, social justice, community and simple living.

Walsh said she planned to go all-in on her role. She considered other volunteer opportunities after working with a family member in a New York-housing agency, but she wanted to get more of a hands-on opportunity.

“I am fully prepared to get my hands dirty and get the job done,” she said. “At the community food bank, I hope to learn more ways to organize the community around common agenda, which nourishes both farmers and families. I hope to hear farmers’ stories, hopes and struggles.”

Walsh’s interest in food sovereignty is one reason she chose to head out to Arizona after graduation. Food sovereignty is defined by the National Family Farm Coalition as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally-appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods.”

Food sovereignty differs from food security, although Walsh has experience with both.

“I became interested in the concept of food sovereignty as a sustainable, ecological system rooted in indigenous forms of knowledge through a combined coursework and direct experience,” said Walsh. “I learned the essential differences between food sovereignty, which emphasizes grass-roots community-based food production and distribution, and food security, which attempts to address lack of access to affordable, healthy food within the current (inherently unequal) food system.”

Tucson, located less than an hour’s drive from Mexico, was an ideal place for her to spend a year volunteering, she said.

“I’m excited to be living in a different part of the country so close to the Mexican border,” she said. “As an immigrant-rights advocate, I hope to also volunteer with advocacy organizations in that area.”

She’s also interested in learning more about how government programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work to either help or hinder families’ ability to choose healthy food, she said.

In addition to working with farmers and families in Arizona, Walsh said she also was looking forward to the spiritual component of the Jesuit program. For the next year she will be participating in a weekly spiritual night and going on four retreats, in addition to the weekly Catholic Mass obligation.

Ultimately, though, she said the next year is about community-building. And attending to her own spiritual health can help her address others’ physical health, she said.

“If you want to build community in society or different pockets you are a part of, it definitely starts in the home,” she said. “When you can practice those acts of self-care, you’re more readily able to do so (for others) in your daily life.”