Demry Croft looked across the counter, gave a big smile and greeted the woman waiting for her food.
“She was grumpy,” Croft recalled. “She didn’t smile. She said thank you but it was quiet.”
That was the first trip Croft took to volunteer at Loaves and Fishes, a nonprofit organization working to end hunger in Minnesota by providing free meals for those in need. At that time, he had no idea what to expect and was a bit intimidated. Loaves and Fishes is always understaffed and puts their volunteers into action as soon as they walk through the door in preparation to serve 200 people in an hour. The 30 minutes right before the doors open feel faster and more chaotic than any two-minute drill, but only one thing matters when the guests start pouring in.
“Smile and welcome them,” Croft explained. “If you were in their shoes and reaching a hand out you would want someone to go out there and touch it. By greeting them it is like reaching your hand out and touching them.”
Loaves and Fishes asks its volunteers to treat the guests as if they were welcoming somebody into their own home.
“They get mistreated a lot when they are out in the streets,” Croft explained.
Croft’s whole perspective on the homeless has changed. He has taken more trips to volunteer with Loaves and Fishes than anyone else on the team. The other workers recognize him and Croft said he is starting to see himself as part of the group.
“When they ask you to do something you just roll with it,” Croft said. “You never know what kinds of things they will need help with. You end up talking and hearing all kinds of stories and experiences.”
On a recent trip Croft went to St. Stephens, a facility that Loaves and Fishes serves at, with enough teammates to fill up the University of Minnesota M.A.G.I.C. bus. When the bus pulled up to St. Stephens all eyes turned to Croft and he told his teammates what to expect and led them throughout the evening of volunteering.
“It felt good having my teammates follow me when we were there. They were willing to trust me and it was cool to see them all having fun,” Croft said.
The pressure of being a starting quarterback in the Big Ten can add stress and outside expectations on anybody, but Croft is able to escape that for a bit when giving back.
“I feel like a regular person again,” he said. “It’s even better when you are just handing out food and can see the appreciation in the eyes of the guests.”
Oh, and as for the woman from Croft’s first trip? He eventually won her over.
“Just this past week I gave her food and said have a nice day. She got a wide smile and gave me a big thank you. That was pretty big for me having her do that,” Croft said.
And while Croft has made a difference in his weeks of volunteering with Loaves and Fishes, he feels like the impact it has had on him has been even bigger.
“The whole process of Loaves and Fishes is really an eye opening experience,” Croft said. “It’s not just doing a good deed for the community but you are doing it for yourself as well. I feel like through doing this I have become a better, more mature person. Every second is a blessing. Whether you are in a bad situation or not you just have to try and make the most of it.”
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