Fighting Hunger Every Week
Nils and Joan Nelson have had a standing date every week for the last two and a half years, a regular commitment to which many couples aspire, but this is no ordinary date. It is in a warehouse surrounded by forklifts, banana boxes, dented cans, and involves about 33 other people, depending on the time of year.
The Nelsons are part of a very special group of volunteers at MANNA FoodBank: Our weekly volunteer corp. These volunteers set aside a specific time in their schedule every week to work towards a hunger-free WNC. They are the backbone of our volunteer group, helping train new volunteers on specific tasks and best practices, and taking on a wide range of duties. The weekly volunteer corp is essential to MANNA’s work, and help us get the food to those who need it most across WNC.
“The Task Doesn’t Matter”
In their two and a half years of volunteering each week, Joan and Nils have basically done it all, and made friends while doing it. “We have packed hundreds of MANNA Packs, bagged everything from apples to tomatoes to frozen meats,” says Joan Nelson, a member of the dedicated Wednesday afternoon volunteer shift. “We have all become fast friends,” says Nils Nelson of the regular Wednesday afternoon crew.
“I’ve spent afternoons checking expiration dates on frozen foods, compacting waste cardboard into bales, or cleaning out bins of spoiled food,” says David Bond, a regular Friday afternoon volunteer who started his regular shift just over a year ago. “The task doesn’t matter, it all contributes in some small way to helping fight hunger, and that’s the point of volunteering.”
“We really enjoy the Monday morning shift,” says Harriet Zaidberg. Harriet and her husband Ed have been weekly volunteers since December after volunteering monthly with a regular group. “We frequently prepare MANNA Packs for school children but have done other diverse activities,” she reports, including bulk repackaging and bagging fresh produce. “We were delighted when the weekly opportunity came along. We work with friendly, interesting folks and have made some wonderful new friends!”
MANNA FoodBank relies on volunteers in almost every aspect of operations here at the warehouses on Swannanoa River Road, and their impact is incredible. In 2015, over 7,400 volunteers helped MANNA move a record-breaking 15.7 million pounds of food across Western North Carolina. This level of volunteer involvement is equivalent to more than 31 full-time employees.
“We often describe the entire cohort of MANNA’s volunteers as the heartbeat of our organization, ” says Maxwell Gruber, Volunteer Manager for MANNA FoodBank. “but it is our weekly regular volunteers who provide the backbone to our daily operations. Food moves in and out of MANNA at breakneck speed, and we rely on our weekly regulars to ensure that the flow of product continues without a hitch.”
“Once I knew about the hunger problems in WNC, I couldn’t put it out of my mind,” says David. “MANNA asks so little – a few hours a week – that I knew I had to help out.”
“We support MANNA’s mission and the need it fills in the community,” says Sandra and Larry Layton, regular weekly volunteers on Tuesday mornings for over three years. “We wanted to give back to the community.”
This is a common thread among all MANNA volunteers, but particularly for the regular weekly shift volunteers. “We attended one of Max’s orientation sessions,” says Nils, referring to MANNA’s current Volunteer Manager, Maxwell Gruber, “and after his impressive and informative presentation, we wanted to participate and immediately signed up.”
This urge to turn awareness into action often comes down to learning just a little about the reality of hunger in our area. “I attended an information session,” says David, “and was shocked by the amount of hunger in North Carolina.”
WNC has a hunger problem. One in six people in WNC are at risk for food insecurity, which means that they do not have regular access to affordable food. For vulnerable populations, those numbers are even more staggering: One in four children in WNC do not have enough to eat, and according to Feeding America’s 2014 Hunger In America report for WNC, four out of five households served by MANNA FoodBank network partners are living on less than $20,000 a year. This high rate of poverty in WNC puts increased pressure on a family’s food budget that might already be making tough decisions, such as having to choose between paying for medications or food.
As heart-wrenching as these statistics can be, it is the action of our regular volunteers that continue to put food on tables across WNC. “People struggling with food insecurity are being fed in WNC every day of the year thanks to the devotion of those who choose to spend one day a week in MANNA’s warehouse,” notes Max.
A Fond Farewell
Being a weekly volunteer means that you get to know some key people at MANNA. Every volunteer that comes through MANNA’s doors usually has their first interaction with MANNA’s Volunteer Manager, Max Gruber. Max will be leaving MANNA at the end of August, embarking on an incredible next phase of life, and we wanted to take this opportunity to let our volunteers express their thoughts and sentiments for Max.
“Max has always been a pleasure to work with,” says Larry. “Always friendly and professional, he makes an effort to know volunteers individually and speak with them regularly, letting them know how valuable they are to MANNA.”
“He is a great ambassador for MANNA,” says Sandra. “We will miss him greatly but wish him the best in his future endeavors!”
“Max is the epitome of organization!” says Harriet. “He personally interacts with our volunteer crew every Monday morning. We’re so sad that he’s leaving but so happy that he’s moving on in his life. He’ll have the opportunity to experience so many new adventures! We wish him only the best.”
“Working with Max has been an enlightening experience,” says David. “He is always upbeat and cheerful, makes a point of being there every shift to greet the volunteers, usually each by name, and to thank them for coming. I think his personality has gone a long way toward finding and retaining volunteers. When I learned he planned to leave it was a bittersweet moment; I wanted him to stay but also wanted him to move up and out in his career, as he deserves the best. Max, if you read this, all the best to you and thank you for all you have done for the people of Western North Carolina!”
“From our very first introduction to Max at the orientation, we were impressed with his managerial style and we’ve enjoyed his friendly and enthusiastic approach every since,” say Nils and Joan. “We wish him continued success in all his new adventures. He’ll most surely be missed!”
Mary Nesbitt, Chief Development Officer and Max’s supervisor, shared this:
You have had an immeasurable and lasting impact in our efforts to end hunger in WNC, and in taking such great care of our amazing volunteers. MANNA FoodBank is even better because of you, Max. We will miss you more than we can say, but are also celebrating with you and Courtney!
So say we all. Bon voyage, Max, from all of the volunteers and staff at MANNA FoodBank.
If you are interested in joining an incredible group of people that are the MANNA volunteers, please visit this page of our website. We have a variety of volunteer opportunities available, and can work with you to match you to something that suits your physical abilities and your time constraints.