It’s hard to believe I have been practicing yoga for 10 years now. I’ve fallen off the wagon before, sometimes for weeks or months at a time, but yoga always seems to find me again. What I love most about yoga is that you can always pick up where you left off. Yoga always welcomes you back with open arms, even if your muscles are screaming the next day!
Yoga found me for the first time while I was in high school working at a coffee shop between cross country and spring track seasons. There was a health club in the same shopping center and a yoga instructor named Paul would always come to get smoothies and tea between classes. Paul reminded me of the musician Moby, with his bald head and new-age vibe. He kept urging my best friend and I to check out a class— that even if we never came back we should at least give it a try. One day we finally took him up on the offer and found ourselves among a rather diverse group of people in suburban Pennsylvania.
I was familiar with stretching and spinal twists from warming up for runs—I even remember a teammate telling me to focus on a blade of grass to keep my balance when stretching our hamstrings. It’s like I had the tools within me all along and just needed a teacher to help me dig a little deeper. We moved through the poses quickly, but held them—a vinyasa style class which I enjoyed. I remember being adjusted for the first time before we entered savasana. The feeling of total alignment and balance, inside and out, was intoxicating! I knew after my first class that yoga was a practice I wanted to keep with me for a lifetime.
I continued to practice throughout college and during the summers in between, grabbing as many friends as I could to come along. I love taking people to their first yoga class, exposing them to my secret outlet. I feel that yoga is a practice that everyone should explore at least once and that there are adaptations for people of all walks of life.
After college, I spent some time traveling to figure out my next stepping stone and decided to become a member of AmeriCorps NCCC, a federally funded national service program. I got the chance to explore parts of the country I otherwise may not have visited, including Mobile, where I worked with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. As part of our required personal training regimen, I led my team through sun salutations and other stretches from time to time. I would read a meditation or quote as we closed our eyes for savasana, modeling after other teachers of mine. I loved watching the look on their faces as we closed practice with a quiet “namaste”. Eventually, I would like to take my practice to the next level and pursue teacher training, but I’ve found comfort in my niche within the Gulf Coast’s non-profit community.
I began working at Bay Area Food Bank a year and a half ago as part of the SNAP outreach team and have since shifted gears to coordinate volunteer and food drive efforts. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is the federally funded program formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. A major reason for the name change reflects healthy eating initiatives and helping to eradicate the stigma associated with government assistance. Nearly 17% of people along the Central Gulf Coast struggle with food insecurity, many of which are children, seniors or disabled citizens who do not have the means to provide for themselves. That’s more than 1 in 6 people who are unsure of where their next meal is coming from that live within one of the 24 counties the food bank serves in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.
SNAP is a vital resource which aims to help low-income families and individuals afford to eat healthier and helps fill the gap when other resources are not available. With the current state of the economy, more and more people are becoming eligible for these life-changing benefits but often times they run into roadblocks that can get in the way of applying and getting approved. The goal of the food bank’s SNAP team is to pre-screen families and individuals to see if they are potentially eligible for SNAP benefits and to offer assistance with the application process for those who may qualify. Look for this upcoming volunteer opportunity in the near future—the team is moving towards becoming volunteer-based and is seeking out dedicated volunteers to attend mobile pantry distributions and other outreach events where pre-screening may be beneficial.
Since Bay Area Food Bank tackles hunger in a variety of different ways, there many other ways for the community to get involved. Several local organizations and businesses, including Kula, take part in food and fund drives throughout the year. During Kula’s first “Yoga for Newbies” workshop, participants brought food and funds to help raise awareness during Hunger Action Month. Kula was also one of the 12 studios that came together during Yoga Week last year and encouraged students to bring non-perishable food to free classes and events to benefit the food bank by promoting the yogic concept of Seva, or selfless service.
If you are unable to donate food or funds, the food bank has plenty of ways for you to volunteer your time! Volunteers are a critical component when it comes to sorting and inspecting donations to get them ready for distribution to the community. Participants can also lend a hand in our on-site community garden, pack bags of food for children participating in the Backpack Program or assist with departmental needs in the office. We are working to develop partnerships with local farms to coordinate gleaning opportunities so that we can mobilize volunteers to pick excess fruits or vegetables at the end of each farming season to supplement the fresh produce we offer to those we serve in the community.
To accommodate groups and individuals who are unavailable during the week, we host bi-weekly projects from 8 a.m. to noon on the first and third Saturday of the month. In May, we anticipate a high volume of donations to come in from the “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive organized each year with the National Association of Letter Carriers. On Saturday, May 12, we will be hosting volunteers at the food bank between 2 and 10 pm to help unload mail trucks and pre-sort food donated from homes among Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties. These contributions help carry the food bank through the lean summer months and really demonstrate how the community can come together to make a difference in the lives of thousands of hungry families along the Central Gulf Coast.
I have truly never felt more of a sense of connectedness to the community surrounding me than here in Mobile, and yoga has played an integral part. The yoga community in this area has been instrumental in syncing me with like-minded people who have similar ideals and outlooks on life. Yoga is my anchor, my therapy, my outlet and I feel comforted to know that I have so many allies along this path. Here’s to the next 10 years!
To find out more about Bay Area Food Bank and how to get involved, check out our Facebook page or visit our website at www.bayareafoodbank.org.