Listening as a Mode of Service

Annie Dunn, a Repair the World fellow in Pittsburgh, took some time to share the impact she was able to have on others over the course of the year, and the impact the Fellowship had on her.

I was in my final semester as an undergrad and still had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life, let alone what I was going to do after graduation. Corporate America sounded terrifying, moving back to my mom’s house in rural Michigan sounded equally terrifying, and my Grandma wouldn’t let me get away with waiting tables for the rest of my life. I had to make some decisions. Luckily, during my quarter-life crisis, my mother happened to be donating her time with a volunteer group in Detroit to beautify an old cemetery. That volunteer group turned out to be Repair the World Detroit. I decided to check out the organization’s website after she wouldn’t stop raving about what a meaningful experience she had. I was set on applying after just two minutes. I saw the fellowship as a platform to live out my values on a daily basis, and as the start towards a life of purpose.

I worked intimately with 412 Food Rescue, an amazing non-profit we share workspace with. 412 Food Rescue is a food recovery organization that aims to address the criminal problem that 40% of the food the United States produces goes to waste, while 1 in 6 Americans go hungry. The nonprofit fights hunger by rescuing perfectly viable food from restaurants, grocery stores, farms, retail stores, and wholesalers that is no longer sellable to the public. Perhaps the packaging was dented in shipping and handling, or maybe the 2,000 pounds of yellow peaches were accidentally labeled “white” peaches. For those types of reasons, the food would normally be destined for the dumpster. 412 Food Rescue redirects the food from going to waste and directly distributes it to organizations that serve those who are hungry. Through generous volunteers, supportive local businesses, and strong leadership, the organization has been able to bring fresh, nutritious foods to those living in food deserts around the city.

I also was able to form deep and lasting relationships. Ms. Cecelia Price-Knight will never be forgotten in my books. She and her family owned the hole-in-the-wall Jamaican restaurant a few storefronts down from our workshop prior to its closing this past year. Ms. Cecelia is one of the loveliest and most authentic people I have met in Pittsburgh to date, and it is extremely difficult not to love her. Not only can she cook a delicious meal, but she does it all with integrity. As a minority in the city, she recognizes the systems and narratives that exist to make her feel like an outsider in her own place of residence. She never fails to carry herself as a citizen of the world. She once told me her main ingredient in all of her dishes was love. Cecelia and I shared many talks of how she plans to use her knowledge and energy to instigate more active civic participation in our neighborhood.

Through the Fellowship I learned to listen to the community in which you serve. I want to work to empower what skills and talents already exist in a community, rather than telling people what I think they need. When people feel empowered, they are more likely to address their own needs and advocate on their own behalf.

For me, doing service through a Jewish lens is about rich history and wisdom and not about a religiously spiritual experience. This Fellowship has helped me to understand that Judaism has values to teach about active citizenship and engaging in service.