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How one box of food led to a life of service

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” James Baldwin

From my childhood, I remember most the care and giving that my family received over the years.

One incident that I can recall was when I was 4 or 5 years old. My parents wanted a better life for our family, so we left the busy streets of Detroit to move to a quieter place in Knoxville.

Times were tough, but at 4 or 5 you think you’re on an adventure when you’re sleeping in the car or staying at the Salvation Army and low-budget hotels.  I remember sitting on my father’s shoulders as he walked down the street because I was too tired to walk because we had no car. I especially remember a church that gave us a large box of food.

It made me so happy. A large box of food! 

I believe that was the moment when I felt what I would today call “grateful and appreciative.”

Now, that feeling is something I want to give to others, and I have found the opportunity to do so through community service.

Inspired by a memory

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

As a member of Team Blue at BlueCross, I have participated in wonderful community service projects over the last 11 years. In 2007, I prepared lunches in the cafeteria at the Miller Building for the Feeding Our Future program.

Again, I thought back to that large box of food and imagined how excited these kids felt knowing they were going to have a meal. 

I was so inspired by this moment that I realized I wanted to learn more about the makeup of the community and how to better mobilize service efforts to protect and improve the health of area residents. I enrolled in a doctoral program the following year with a major in Public Health focusing on Community Health Promotion and Education.

The power of giving back

In 2009, I helped clean the Chambliss Center for Children. This was my first opportunity to see the little faces of kids who I was helping. They were so excited, and we even got to read a couple of books to them in between the cleaning. I also volunteered at the Chattanooga Room in the Inn, a safe place that helps homeless women become self-sufficient.

I’ve had countless volunteer opportunities at BlueCross, but three are very near and dear to my heart: the USDA Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program, the Polar Express Pajama Drive, and a KaBOOM! playground build at the Salvation Army East Lake Corps.

In early 2015, our Medicaid Medical Management team was working with the Hamilton County school coordinator on an asthma education initiative. The relationship with this coordinator led to two community service projects that became part of the Team Blue.

First, the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetables program, launched in 2015, provides students at certain local Title 1 elementary schools fresh fruits or vegetables as a healthy snack. As a volunteer, I chopped, cut, packaged, sorted, prepared and helped deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to the students. For obvious reasons, providing food to those in need has always been important to me.

Later, we were presented with another opportunity to continue serving one of the schools we partnered with for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program.

Lanise Hutchins BlueCross
Lanise has received many thank-you cards and letters from students who have benefited from the annual Pajama Drive.

Polar Express Day, also launched in 2015, allows students to wear pajamas to school to celebrate the winter holidays. Unfortunately, most students at participating schools do not own any pajamas or even warm clothes. So, they needed donations to ensure that each child could participate in the festivities.

Again, remembering that large box of food, I wanted this happen.

That first year, every student received pajamas. In 2016 and 2017, we helped provide more than 1,600 pairs of pajamas, expanding the drive to reach three schools. 

Next, the playground build: For years, I wanted to be involved in a BlueCross-sponsored project, but I was unable to participate in one until late 2017. I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason, and the build I volunteered for just happened to be at the Salvation Army, a branch of the same organization that provided my family with shelter and food when I was a child.

It was an honor to participate in this event knowing that I was giving a little girl like me a safe place to play, have fun and be a kid.

Always looking forward

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.”  Mother Teresa

When I take off that Team Blue shirt, my work does not stop. Community service is more than service to me. It’s a lifestyle that keeps me humble, whole and searching  for opportunities to give that large box of food to someone else in need.

I hope today that I have created enough ripples to encourage others to serve their own communities and see the results of providing a large box of food.

About Lanise Hutchins, Performance Improvement Consultant

A photo of the authorLanise works in BlueCare at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. She is also a dedicated and passionate member of Team Blue, our network of employee volunteers. She loves to read and write, and serves as a part-time professor of English composition, teaching and mentoring young adults.

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