The following blog post was written by food banker Ashley Bonner, Agency Relations Coordinator for Second Harvest Food Bank.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”- Mahatma Gandhi
Meet Susan Cox. Susan is the Program Director of One Step Further, Inc — a Second Harvest partner agency located in Guilford County. Susan has client choice pantries located in both Greensboro and High Point, as well as a pantry through Cone Community Health and Wellness Center. Susan lives a life of service.
Susan Cox serves as Second Harvest’s Chair of the Agency Relations Committee on Second Harvest’s Board and as well as the Chair of the Agency Advisory Council. The Agency Advisory Council (AAC) was created in 1995. It provides a forum for communication between and among our network of partner agencies and Second Harvest. The Council is designed to obtain insight and feedback from Second Harvest’s partner agencies in order to help assess, improve, and guide our services.
The AAC consist of 18 representatives from each of the 18 counties that we serve. Each member serves on the AAC for 2 years. They become the liaison between Second Harvest and the partner agencies in their individual counties. Through our monthly Agency Newsletter, I hope to spotlight all 18 members of the AAC.
Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Susan and delving more into her program and mission. We begin our sit down with a brief history of how Susan began in feeding others. She was formerly a part of The Servant Center’s pantry. From there, One Step Further was officially established in November 2014. Susan says that what she does goes far beyond food; she is also in the business of empowering those individuals that she serves. Through her programs she offers different opportunities through Nutrition Education classes, FNS outreach and GED classes– her hope is to assist those who come to One Step Further in becoming self-sufficient.
They also offer gardening classes to give people on a fixed income a way to secure healthy, fresh food on their own. With these classes, they obtain the skills of harvesting and knowing when and what to plant. By reaching out to community partners Susan has been able to receive funds/donations to provide the supplies for the classes. When the class concludes they are giving the proper supplies to go home and continue growing their green thumb.
When talking with Susan her passion for the work she does is undeniable. She is always identifying ways to make their experience at her programs more humane and welcoming. This is one of the reasons she was able to have the insight in seeing the benefits of having the One Step Further pantries operate under the client choice model. When asked what benefits she sees from being a client choice pantry she said “the right food to the right people and right hands.” With their previous method of prepacking bags it was hard to distribute things like eggplant and spaghetti squash. Through client choice you now see people choosing those things as well as them choosing healthier options overall.
One of the major improvements she’s seen after switching to client choice is being able to bring back a feeling of dignity to those who utilize the pantry. She believes that using client choice methods has erased some of the stigma associated with going to pantries. Her guests can now come in and choose things that appeal to them and their families. She once had a lady say “this was almost like shopping at a grocery store.”
Susan hopes to one day work herself out of a job. But without systematic change she worries that it will never happen. She stresses that we need to see a change from the bottom to the top and from the top to the bottom societally. Through her work, Susan advocates for livable wages and equal access to programs.
She shares stories of people who receive a minimal raise and see their benefits cut, which places them in a financial hole. She says that some choose to remain unemployed or work part-time to continue receiving assistance because low-wage work does not necessarily make up the difference. Susan would like to see a gradual transition away from assistance instead of cutting someone off abruptly at a fixed-income line. She feels that through the action of abrupt disruption of assistance some people determine that it’s safer to choose assistance over finding a better job.
In short, Susan just wants to see everyone be giving a fair chance to live a viable and self-supporting life.
While wrapping up with Susan, I asked her a question that I don’t think she saw coming: “Everyone has a great app idea, what’s yours?”
Her response is that she isn’t a big user of apps and relates as a more hands-on person. She feels we’ve all become way too attached to our phones. But, she paused for a moment and said, “I would create an app that tells you when to unplug from the phone. That it’s now time to go outside or take a walk.”
So, let’s all take a cue from Susan and put down your phones, turn off your TV’s, leave your house and get to know your neighborhood, plant flowers and find fulfillment in the service of others.