Each week, Jagger Barnes faithfully makes a call to 100 different families who are fighting food insecurity in her Highland Park and Highwood, Illinois areas to coordinate a grocery donation. The groceries are provided by the service group SaLT, which has been running the service, called Project Shop N Drop, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to Jagger, the families she’s calling are not only receiving food they would otherwise struggle to obtain, but also a friendly ear and support system.
Jagger has been a dutiful volunteer with SaLT since she was in the eighth grade. Now 15 years old, Jagger is not only involved in Project Shop N Drop, but also helped organize both a tutoring program and a coaching program for the families’ kids. She has also been on four different service trips with SaLT, the most recent being a trip to New Orleans this past month to provide disaster relief after Hurricane Ida.
Describe your volunteer role with SaLT.
SaLT stands for Service and Learning Together. SaLT is an amazing organization which originally took students all around the United States for travel, but had to pivot due to Covid. [Then SaLT started] Project Shop N Drop, where we serve local families fighting food insecurity on a weekly basis. In the past 19 months, we have put in 4,426 hours of service. We have completed 4,664 pickups and deliveries, and 13,162 bags of groceries went to 776 people in 185 families. All these families are local and fighting food insecurity. I’m a student leader and intern for Project Shop N Drop and SaLT Serving Safely.
What do you do as a student leader and intern?
I am fluent in Spanish. We have our hundreds of families we serve on a weekly basis. I connect and make a phone call to all 100 of those families who are majority Spanish speaking. Every week I call and connect to confirm, because we have two ways our families receive the grocery items — a pick-up if they’re able they come to our site, or a delivery will be made. It will be no contact, and we’ll coordinate that. We have teams of deliverers who do that on Saturday mornings along with other volunteers. On a weekly basis we prepare, we collect donations, and we try to get as many people involved as we can, because we strongly believe in being stronger together.
Can you describe Love2Learn?
Love2Learn was a student-to-student tutoring program. We had high school students who came to volunteer and tutored the students in our [Project Shop N Drop] families. This was the first teacher or school role that the students had been involved in since school shut down around March [2020.] It was really awesome to get the students back. We made learning really fun and something students could look forward to. … We are starting back up again in November which is super exciting.
What about DreamBIG?
This was another opportunity for our students. It was primarily focused on our students’ passions and what they love to do. We had soccer, we had art classes, we had dance, we had basketball — a bunch of different things that our students could come and connect with others who shared the same passion they did.
What was your most recent service trip to New Orleans like?
We went to New Orleans and we worked with a couple different nonprofits. We worked with SBP in relief of Hurricane Ida. We suited up in respirators, Tyvek suits, and a bunch of protective gear, and we gutted a house that had molding and wind damage from the hurricane. It was really incredible to be so hands on and help right on the front line in relief. This was less than an hour outside New Orleans. On the drive there, it was crazy to see how much this hurricane had impacted the community. We also worked with the nonprofit Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, working on a house that even 16 years after Katrina is still facing the impacts and the neighborhood is still filled with blight.
Have any of these projects been particularly special for you?
Shop N Drop is very, very special to me as I get the opportunity to connect with our families and I have a relationship with them, as I’ve kept in contact weekly with them for the past 19 months. The most important thing is realizing that going through a pandemic when you’re in need is so incredibly hard, and providing our families with a support system and someone they can call if they need help. We’ve helped our families not just with the food items. We’re helping them through difficulties paying rent, eviction, helping them put a meal on the table for a special occasion. We celebrated a virtual baby shower. The little things are so important.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Experiencing the gratitude from our families and knowing that I’m helping. What I like to think about when we’re on Zoom, the community members you’re helping are the people who you might not know sit next to you at school, your neighbors even. You never know. Even though you might not know who exactly you’re helping, that shouldn’t matter. You just need to know it’s for the greater good.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I have developed life long skills. I never would have imagined myself here today. My perspective, my attitude, and my outlook on life have changed so much. I’ve met so many incredible people that I’m so grateful to know.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
The importance of service and learning together. It’s amazing to do good, but if you add the learning aspect, you understand why it’s so meaningful and you understand how you can educate others. It all starts with educating yourself. Educate yourself and inform others and always bring it home, because word of mouth is so important. Word of mouth how we’ve been here 19 months strong.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Jagger? Find local volunteer opportunities.