Volunteering During the Holidays

For many years, when my two daughters were younger and living at home with me, I wanted the three of us to spend Thanksgiving Day helping to feed the homeless or hungry. I remember calling multiple places to volunteer and I could not find a single place that was taking volunteers. (I’m guessing many people chose to do this during the holidays, so they didn’t have a need at that time.)

I didn’t get too discouraged, but it has always been in the back of my mind to do this.

So, when the opportunity presented itself to me a few weeks ago, I quickly signed up to help.

The story really began about five years ago, when Second Harvest, the largest food bank in Orange County, California, contacted our company, wanting to give us some recognition for being the top fresh food donor in our area. Most companies in the fresh produce industry donate unsaleable, but edible, food to a local food bank. It’s just the right thing to do, and all of us do it without any expectation of acknowledgement. If we can’t ship it to a customer, we don’t want it to go to waste.

So that’s how I first got familiar with Second Harvest. And last year, I met CEO Nicole Suydam, an incredibly passionate and driven woman, who spent many years at Goodwill Industries. A few months ago, she approached me about joining the Second Harvest Board of Directors.

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Hunger is prevalent in so many neighborhoods, even in Orange County (the home of the happiest place on earth, aka Disneyland), where thousands of children go hungry each day. I was excited to learn more about the organization and in September I attended my first board meeting. I discovered that Second Harvest is a member of the Feeding America organization and has goals about how many meals it will provide during the course of a year (almost 1 million for 2016). I also learned that Second Harvest and Feeding America have a Nutrition Policy—meaning their stated intention is to provide healthy eating options, not foods with high fat or empty calories.

I was intrigued at my second board meeting, when I learned that instead of having a holiday party, the entire board was invited to volunteer at a local church when food would be distributed to neighborhood families on a Saturday morning. This was the brainchild of a Second Harvest staff member and, as it turns out, we had excellent attendance with our board, as well as their family members.

As you can see from the photos, a mobile pantry (a large truck with access to both sides of the vehicle) arrived about 8 a.m., filled with all sorts of fresh produce—oranges, kiwifruit, broccoli, and lots of potatoes (I was in charge of baby potatoes). We fed more than 130 families. The mobile pantry is set up to preserve the dignity of patrons, as they are encouraged to “shop,” choosing the foods they want, like they would in a regular grocery store or farmers market.

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Although it only took about two hours of my time that Saturday morning, it filled up my heart for the entire day. I got to see firsthand the great impact my industry has on helping feed people, even with foods that cannot be sold in grocery stores. These shoppers were trying to fill their bellies and didn’t care if the potatoes were misshapen or the kiwis were a bit overripe.

As I looked around that morning, I was humbled that it took me so many years to find a way to truly give thanks. A way to help those who are hungry and less fortunate. A way to do more than “write a check.”

When I returned to work, I announced that we would be having a canned food drive at our office the following week. I wrote a personal note to all Frieda’s employees so they would know why this was important to me and should be to them too.

In this season of giving and giving thanks, I encourage each of you to consider sharing with those less fortunate. It will fill your heart with joy.

Karen

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