Students at Bishop Maginn High School in Albany are using their required community service time to help people close to their home and heart.

Volunteering at the food pantry of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, located just steps away from the school, has extra-special meaning for some students: A good portion of Maginn's student body came to the Albany Diocese from Myanmar (Burma) and other countries.

These students, former refugees, are able to speak with the patrons of the food pantry who also come from overseas. The Maginn group translates from Thai or Burmese to English so volunteers at the food pantry understand guests' needs. Guests enter the pantry by going down a flight of steps. A friendly face -- often a student -- greets them and helps them check in with an ID card. Patrons are escorted into the food room by a volunteer, who pushes a small shopping cart while helping patrons pick up canned goods and other items. In a back room, guests can get coats, shoes or other clothing.

The student volunteers can translate food labels to patrons whose first language is not English, helping them understand foods unfamiliar to their culture.

I can help
Chri Aye, a junior from Thailand, said the people she helps often feel more comfortable with her at the food pantry than they would with other people. She thinks they find solace in speaking their shared language.

Chri also told The Evangelist that it means a lot to her to be able to help others with English.

Sister Margaret Mary Hohl, DC, social services director for the cathedral, said the students' help makes her job of running the food pantry a little easier.

Maginn students who have the ability to translate aren't the only ones who work in the pantry. The project is part of a community service independent study for theology classes under the direction of Sue Silverstein-Gilligan, Maginn's director of campus ministry and community service and theology department chair.

Students who serve
"I want to create a generation of adults that love and care," Mrs. Silverstein-Gilligan noted.

The students' tasks include checking patrons in, helping them fill bags with food, unloading the truck that delivers the food items on Mondays and organizing the storage closet's crates of canned goods.

"I like helping in the storage room," said Ther Wah, a freshman; for classmate Gabe Silverstein, working in the sorting room is fun.

"We have learned about how to help," Gabe told The Evangelist.