Emily Phan doesn’t volunteer at the Little Pantry That Could every weekend just to log service hours for school. As she helps clients pick out the food they need to feed themselves and their families, Phan is spending time with friends, old and new alike.
The Father Ryan High School senior’s dedication to the mission at the Little Pantry That Could has earned her the prestigious Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Award for 2020 in the Direct Service (ages 5-20) category.
“I consider The Little Pantry my home away from home,” Phan said after the award was announced on Sept. 16. “It’s a place of love.”
The Little Pantry That Could, located on 24th Avenue North in North Nashville, is a non-profit that provides food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen meats, and a variety of shelf-stable goods to anyone in need. Volunteers accompany the clients, called shoppers, as they go through the shelves of food picking out what they need.
“Most places you go to volunteer … you don’t get to meet the people, you don’t really get to know them,” Phan said. But volunteering at the Little Pantry every Saturday and any Friday she’s available has allowed Phan to get to know the clients and their stories.
“I have people (who receive food from Little Pantry) I consider close friends,” Phan said. “It’s a lot more personal. A lot more face to face.”
Phan started volunteering at the Little Pantry when she was a sixth grade student at Christ the King School. Her sister Rachel was a freshman at Father Ryan and needed service hours to meet a requirement for school. Her sister and mother, Dorothy Walawender, took Emily along to the Little Pantry.
“I really liked the place,” Phan said.
She started going regularly as a seventh and eighth grader and has continued through her high school years. Through high school, she has volunteered at the Little Pantry for close to 440 hours, and closer to 500 hours when her time before high school is included.
Phan is a member of Father Ryan’s St. Vincent de Paul Service Society, which is open to juniors and seniors who provide more than 120 hours of service to the poor and marginalized through a corporal work of mercy.
Volunteering has made Phan “more empathetic and more understanding of people’s situations,” she said.
Phan, a National Merit Semi-finalist, is still weighing options for college after she graduates from Father Ryan, but she will continue volunteering wherever she ends up. And when she returns home for vacations and breaks, “I definitely want to volunteer” at the Little Pantry, she said.
The Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards, which are presented by Hands On Nashville, are named in memory of the late Mary Catherine Strobel, a parishioner at the Assumption Church in the Germantown neighborhood, known for her extensive and charitable efforts toward improving the lives of Middle Tennessee’s homeless, impoverished and less fortunate populations.
The annual awards ceremony celebrates her service and recognizes those who continue her legacy.
Her children, Jerry Strobel, Veronica Strobel Seigenthaler, Alice Strobel Eadler and Father Charles Strobel, the founder of Room In The Inn, help select each year’s award recipients.
This is the second straight year that a Father Ryan student has won the award. Phan follows Ella Delevante, a 2020 graduate, who received the Direct Service Award last year.