Article by Sarah Thompson, Director of Communications & Volunteer Mobilization
It all started with two life-changing experiences. After high-schooler Thomas Hoong suffered from a knee dislocation and lost a family member to a terminal illness all within a year, he was motivated make a difference.
“As I reflected on those experiences, I was inspired to help people see the beauty in positive energy and life, and ultimately reduce the amount of suffering and tragedy in the world,” shared Hoong.
After Hoong browsed online volunteer sites, he learned about the opportunity to help out at Latter Rain Christian Fellowship’s food pantry in Hartford’s North End, which receives support, including volunteers matched through UAServe, to strengthen and expand their services through Urban Alliance’s Beyond the Basics initiative.
Charles Oxley started Latter Rain Christian Fellowship’s food pantry with his own money in 2012, but gives all the credit to God for blessing the pantry with an increase in support to reach more people.
“It has been a passion for me to feed and help people,” he shared. “God has blessed the pantry with an increase of food from different sources so we can reach more people. We now serve more than one thousand people monthly.”
While Hoong was on a mission to be a blessing, he never imagined how much of a blessing he would receive in return by serving alongside Oxley and the other volunteers, which Hoong affectionately refers to as his “Latter Rain family.”
“From setup to distribution to clean up, Latter Rain is the epitome of what teamwork should look like,” explained Hoong. “When we work together and support one another, we make bigger strides in transforming our community. Our success and missteps fill the room with laughter, growth and joy. By giving one hundred percent of our focus and attention to our clients, we transform humanity and inspire other to be leaders in positive change.”
He added, “The adult volunteers are great people with big hearts. They have a great sense of humor and know how to have fun. And of course, those in charge of the pantry showed me that we are all capable of love and joy. They can make anyone's day happier. I'm grateful that Sisters Pam and Debbie, and Brother Oxley operate the pantry as caring and legitimate leaders.”
As part of his volunteer tasks, Hoong prepares boxes of food and delivers them to community members who are unable to make it to the pantry and also distributes food on-site at the pantry.
“He is compassionate, intelligent, kind, and eager to please and serve others,” shared Oxley. “No job is too big or small for him, and he is willing to assist with any tasks with a great attitude.”
One of the unique ways that Hoong was looking to grow his skills as a volunteer was by practicing his Spanish language skills. And, by being matched through UAServe, he’s had the opportunity to do so at Latter Rain.
“As one of only five volunteers who can speak Spanish, I will always remember the warm smiles and looks of surprise when I have done my best to communicate with Spanish-speaking clients,” shared Hoong.
It’s this type of effort that has helped bring people together while meeting real needs in the community.
“Urban Alliance has helped our pantry to broaden our racial diversity with our volunteers as well as breaking racial stereotypes by fostering new relationships,” explained Oxley.
Since being matched to Latter Rain a little over a year ago, Hoong has contributed nearly 100 hours of service, qualifying him as a UAServe Champion. His only regret is that he didn’t start sooner.
“UAServe will help you to get involved and figure out where you can allocate your strengths from a variety of options,” explained Hoong. “UA has done a tremendous job partnering with safe, meaningful and friendly non-profit organizations. By volunteering, you have fun, develop real-world skills, and create change through your words and actions. There is nothing to be afraid of because everyone recognizes the full value of the time, effort and love you devote to creating and contributing positive changes toward a more united community. I really wish I had gotten involved earlier in my life.”