The Smile Behind the Mask
By Matthew Robinson, #CaliforniansForAll and Summer of Service Volunteer

“Though protective masks may hide the smiles… the warm feeling that comes from helping others remains even in a pandemic.

Most, if not all of us, have experienced that warm and fuzzy feeling while giving someone else a gift, sharing both a smile and a sense of gratitude. Now take that feeling and stretch it out for a couple of hours. Add some of those ’70s and ’80s hits in the background, and you have a shift at the food bank.


My first day at a food bank
I remember feeling anxious before my first time volunteering at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank in 2015. As a shy seventh grader, I was nervous about getting involved with community service, fearful that I would mess something up and cause more harm than good. Additionally, I doubted that I could actually make a significant impact on my community in just a few hours. However, just minutes into the three-hour shift, my anxiousness and doubt completely disappeared.


Both the site leader and the returning volunteers were incredibly welcoming and clear in explaining how to prep the boxes of food for distribution. The site leader assigned each volunteer to a specific role, each of which played an essential part in the operation. After countless tunes on a ‘80s throwback playlist, and many friendly conversations with fellow volunteers, we had packed over 250 boxes. Not only did we accomplish a lot in a short period of time, but we shared plenty of laughs and smiles along the way.


The backbone of food distribution in a pandemic
Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, organizations like the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank need volunteers to step up more than ever. Thousands of households across the state of California are leaning on food distribution sites during this time of financial hardship, and volunteerism serves as the backbone for these operations. Though farms and government-funded projects throughout the state are generously donating food and produce, volunteers are essential in making sure that the resources reach the communities in need.


My family and I have been volunteering weekly at the San Rafael drive-thru location since early April, and we have found that each time there is a new addition or development to better the process of packing and distributing the supplies. Though protective masks may hide the smiles and laughter, I can assure you that the warm feeling that comes from helping others remains even in a pandemic, and may even be stronger ever. I am also happy to report that the music hasn’t stopped either.


Other options for a Summer of Service
If the thought of distributing food seems uncomfortable but you still want to make a difference in your community, fear not. Food distribution sites are not the only way to get involved in these times of uncertainty. The California Volunteers Summer of Service program serves as a great way to find opportunities of all kinds in your community, and receive recognition for your efforts.


In a time with few job openings, Summer of Service has given me a platform to make the most of my summer. I recommend getting involved for anyone who has time to do so, even if it is just a few hours per week.