It's hard enough trying to get hundreds of people in and filed through the proper procedure of the Salvation Army/Wesley House food and toy distribution. It's even harder if there's a language barrier.
"We want them to choose what they want — a large toy, a small toy, and one for each child. It's pretty hard to communicate that with your hands if you don't speak Spanish," said Frances Mitchelson, toy distribution organizer.
Luckily, that problem was addressed thanks to a number of bilingual volunteers on Tuesday and Wednesday at the distribution at the National Guard Armory/Student Recreation Center. On Tuesday and Wednesday morning, USD 250 high schoolers and staff (and occasionally PSU students) helped out as translators for the food and toy distribution to help bridge the communication gap between volunteers and Spanish-speaking residents.
Among those bilingual helpers was Monica LaForte, USD 250 Pittsburg district migrant ESOL coordinator.
"What I saw was largely having trouble with the issue that they didn't know how much they could get and what age groups. They couldn't tell if they were supposed to get one or two, or if they were in the boy or the girl pile," LaForte said. "For the most part, the people that were guiding did an excellent job. They were able to point to them and, after looking at a list with the kids, guide them to the appropriate spot."
LaForte said that while a number of Spanish-speaking families did come to the distribution, it's probably only a reflection of a portion of the Spanish speakers in the area.
"Not knowing the language is a disadvantage for those to know that these services are available. Some that have lived here for a while know about it, but those that just moved here probably didn't know we had the event," LaForte said. "Next year, word of mouth will spread, and we'll probably have more families."
That said, although the event finished up on Wednesday at the National Guard Armory/ Student Recreation Center, organizers began the process and hard work of packing up the items that remain and moving them to the Wesley House.
There, they'll set up a mini-version of the distribution for those who did not register in time, but bring their paperwork to the site. That means boxing everything up, packing up a truck or two, taking them to the Wesley House, unpacking them, setting up tables and the distribution, then doing the whole event over again. The mini version will take place from 1 p.m.-3:30 p.m. today and Friday.
After the end of the two primary days of distribution, Mitchelson said that there were a number of moments that brightened the hearts of volunteers.
"Today, we have a bicycle we were able to give away to a young woman, who had tears in her eyes. She was so grateful. Now, there will be three little girls who are very happy to share that one bike. It makes us volunteers happy to know that it's in the hands of someone who truly appreciates it," Mitchelson said.