When Sandalwood High School teacher Maria Gumbayan first brought her students to volunteer in The Salvation Army’s food pantry 12 years ago, the experience came as kind of a shock.
“It was an eye-opener to me to see all the people in need. I had this idea in my head that in America no one ever had trouble getting food,” said Gumbayan, a native of the Philippines. “But in America, there are much better support systems for people who need the help, just like their pantry,” she said.
Volunteering through the school’s community-based vocational program. Gumbayan said she enjoys bringing students with special learning needs from the Strategic Learning Academics program to the pantry, not only because she wants to allow them the opportunity to give back to the community, but also because working there is a learning experience.
By sorting donations and bagging them up for pantry clients, the teens not only learn real-world skills they can use after graduation, but also gain confidence in their abilities, which changes the way they view themselves, she said.
“This experience is their transition to life after high school. It shows them that they can be independent, which is so important for these students. We don’t want them to graduate and just stay home. They can do so much!” she said.
“God is great and has been so good to me and my family, and that’s why I’m doing this. I have been blessed, so I want to give back!” she continued, noting that The Salvation Army is the student’s favorite volunteering location. “We make a party out of it. We hop in the car and crank up the tunes on our way over, and the kids always say ‘You’re the coolest, Mrs. G!”