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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Volunteer Angie Martin sorts pet food at the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.

It's no exaggeration to say that the Chattanooga Food Bank, a lifeline to the city's hungry, would not function without volunteers. In a normal year, 3,000 volunteers put in over 320,000 hours of volunteer labor, sorting food, assembling emergency food boxes and helping with food drives.

Each hour of volunteer labor translates to 92 free meals, says volunteer coordinator Mark Schock.

"We couldn't do what we do without volunteers," he says.

Four years ago, Lookout Mountain resident Angie Martin starting working a regular Tuesday morning shift at the food bank. Here, in her own words, is her story.

* I moved here from Atlanta. In Atlanta, I had gotten involved 10 years ago with the Gwinnett County Food Bank. Every week, we would go and clean the food bank and sort food.

* I fell in love with volunteering for the food bank.

I have a huge heart for people. It is so sad to me that people can't afford food.

* When I was younger, I always had the assumption that only people without jobs or homeless people can't afford food. But the people I was meeting (at the food bank) looked like me. They weren't necessarily all homeless.

* It became real to me that [hunger] can affect anyone at any time. I met a few people who had just lost their jobs, and they needed help — out of the blue — to feed their families.

* I can't imagine the stress it puts on parents who have kids and are choosing what to pay for. Do I pay rent? Do I buy food? How do I feed my child?

* For the first six months, [a friend and I] worked in the area where they sort food — canned vegetables, soup, whatever. Then, they needed some steady help in the area where they give out the food. We take the food out to people's cars. We are really hands-on. We get used to seeing the same people all the time.

* People want to share their stories. Most of the people are so grateful ... They'll tell us how much it means to them and that it's a blessing. It kind of touches your heart.

* I haven't noticed a huge increase (in customers) as far as the pandemic. There is always need.

* I've seen a couple of young families come in who are just so happy and grateful and you wonder what their story is.

* There is one customer, an older lady, who has come in ever since I've been volunteering. I haven't really asked why. She's probably in her 80s. She is just the sweetest lady. She is always thankful for whatever she gets. It always brightens my day when I see her.

* I've become friends with some of the volunteers. They choose to be there. There is never a time they don't want to be there. It's such a positive experience.

* It makes me happy that the food bank employs people who want to be there, and not just people who see it as a job.

* My favorite thing to do is to take food out to (customers') cars. That's where you have the conversations when people sometimes share why they are there.

* I've always helped with the (food bank's) "Share Your Christmas" drive. I've always worked the 6 a.m.-to-8 a.m. shift. I love it. It's great that people want to drive up and donate. It's fun to be part of that environment. I've never met anyone that isn't a great person that volunteers for that.

* If you are looking to volunteer, the food bank is a great place to start. There's no way that you won't leave satisfied in knowing that you've helped others.

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