By Alice Kenny
Moms and children hungry, struggling and embarrassed by their need: these are some of Lizaura German’s earliest memories.
Lizzie practically grew up at the Catholic Charities food pantry in Washington Heights. Her mother, the site’s longest volunteer – 36 years and counting – brought Lizzie along when she was just past kindergarten age to help out in their neighborhood center.
Those served felt comfortable sharing their fears and tears with the then-little girl.
“It takes a lot to humble yourself to let people what know what you’re going through,” Lizzie says, recalling what she learned from an early age. “There is a lot of pride involved because people want to fix things themselves. When people finally express their need you don’t want them to lose hope.
“A food pantry,” she adds, “is not just a bag of food, it’s a doorway for helping clients.”
As program manager for Catholic Charities Feeding Our Neighbors program, Lizzie enters this doorway daily, sometimes seven days a week. She oversees nearly half of Catholic Charities food pantries plus three soup kitchens – more than 30 all told – commuting from the Catskill mountains to Staten Island along with the Bronx, Manhattan and, of course, Washington Heights.
The job, she says, relies nearly as much on diplomacy as it does on knowledge. Most food pantry staff are volunteers including retirees from Wall Street. So while they are committed to helping their community, these volunteers are also accustomed to taking charge. Lizzie makes sure volunteers feel appreciated while guiding them to listen to those on food pantry lines and make sure they connect them to the breadth of services Catholic Charities offers.
“Clients come in for a bag of food,” Lizzie says as she exchanges smiles with an elderly woman entering the food pantry. “But meanwhile, their lights are being turned off or they’re being evicted. We need to make sure the client feels comfortable enough to express that to the volunteer.”
With a masters degree in public administration from Baruch College, a background that includes a stint at the United Nations, and a dad who works as executive sous chef at the famed Carmine’s restaurant in Greenwich Village, Lizzie could likely land a job almost anywhere.
But her commitment, she says, is to those she serves at Catholic Charities.
“My job is to be the voice of the client,” she say, “because there is nothing worse than losing a client or knowing that a client was not fully helped.”