Friday, June 28, 2013

Why do we volunteer?

I had the opportunity to meet with Robert Rogers, the Director of Volunteer Services at Feeding America Southwest Virginia and after walking away from the converation I was completely blown away and really had a better grasp of the thought process behind volunteer management.

Just like with Harry, I asked him, why do people volunteer? He immediately began to think and he listed off many reasons: whether it is for community service hours, an unemployed individual looking to keep a skill set, through a time of grieving where someone has lost a spouse or family member and they are seeking interaction with others to help in that time, or a child is being made to do it by their parents. Then there is, again, the aspect that people want to give back and serve their community in addition to fueling a passion or pursuing a desire. Robert also stated that he feels that volunteerism in the United States is a cultural phenomenon where we embrace the idea of helping others and serving. Through various endeavors and while travelling around Europe he saw that it was unusual for someone to volunteer and that, instead, giving money was encouraged so the organization could provide for themselves through finances. It was interesting to see this perspective and understand that we volunteer for so many reasons above and beyond the fact that we want to give back to our community.

I also asked Robert to share what he does as the Director of Volunteer Services. I was thoroughly surprised and wanted to share some of our conversation with you. First off, there is the traditional job requirements of data management and reports along with recruitment, interviewing and the placement of volunteers. But then there are aspects of interaction and connection. He explained that there is constant human interaction involved through endless amounts of conversation. When people volunteer they are sharing their skills and ideas and they want to be appreciated. This focus on the appreciation of people and helping an individual find where they fit within Feeding America Southwest Virginia and where they can best serve is the main point of the position. He used phrases and terms such as "constant dialogue" and "observation and sensitivity". As the coordinator one must be aware of a person's feelings and aspirations, to which, one focuses on tailoring the volunteer experience so it meets the individual's needs. Because of this attention to detail, volunteers will stay for extended amounts of time or become someone who wants to come in every week - much of this can be attributed to excellent communication between the coordinator and volunteers.

The Kroger Volunteer Center at Feeding America Southwest Virginia. This space was built through a grant from Kroger and it is where all of the volunteer orientations and training take place!

Robert, the Director of Volunteer Services, and I. He was the first person I contacted in pursuing an internship with Feeding America Southwest Virginia and he has been an instrumental part of my experience thus far!

The act of coordinating with volunteers is, again, all about connection and interaction. There has to be a constant assessment of people's needs and being willing to have conversations to help them find where they fit within this organization or point them to an organization where they will feel their passions come alive for service. I believe everyone can volunteer and I think it is great to serve whether through building a house, cleaning up a street, or coming to the food bank to sort food. There is a place out there for everyone where their skills can be used and where they will feel at home in service.

Where do you volunteer?

For more information on volunteering with Feeding America Southwest Virginia please visit:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Stories that Change Us

About fours years ago a gentleman was at a food pantry helping with the Hunger in America study by doing surveys with the clients that were coming in to receive food. For one of the surveys he spoke with an older woman who kindly answered all of the questions but, in addition, she shared her story and reason for being there.

She began and stated that she was a grandmother who had two grandsons - one was 8 and the other was 5 years old. They had both been brought up in a very troubled and rough home and their parents had neglected to take care of them. The parents weren't providing their sons with adequate shelter, clothes, and, most importantly, food and water. Through a series of events the parents were deemed to be unfit to take care of their children so grandmother and grandfather were given custody and took in the two young boys to live with them.

The woman continued and said that when her grandsons first came to their house she weighed them and she found that the 8 year old weighed significantly less than the 5 year old. She knew that this wasn't right. Her older grandson was taller and had grown more but even still he was underweight and the 5 year old was at a good weight for his age. This didn't make sense to her but she soon received an answer from her 8 year old grandson. He said that they didn't eat very often, but when his parents were able to provide some food and they could eat he would always give most of his portion to his younger brother so that he wouldn't be hungry.

When I heard this it really pulled at my emotions, and I thought to myself, "Here was a boy that was 8 years old, just in elementary school, and he was serving as the caring parental figure for his younger brother." He could hear his younger brothers' stomach growling and he knew that he was in pain from the hunger because he was feeling the same thing. But he made the decision to give almost all of his food away and serve his younger brother, sacrificing his own comfort and well-being.

The gentleman was saddened and taken aback by this story, and the grandmother finished and said that from that day she vowed that here grandsons would never be hungry again. She and her husband didn't have much - enough to support themselves - with only a little left over in order to support the boys. But there just wasn't enough for everything, so she was left with the decision to go to the food pantry. And go she did. Through it all, she was going to keep her vow and provide for her grandsons, because no one should go hungry.

I had the opportunity this morning to hear that story firsthand from that gentleman, Harry Van Guilder, a retired professional who was the former Volunteer Coordinator for Feeding America Southwest Virginia. He still volunteers two days a week with the organization he has grown to love. His love and passion for serving stems from stories such as the one he shared. They keep him going and it gives feeling and a great perspective to the work that Feeding America Southwest Virginia does. In sharing stories with me, Harry also explained his work as the volunteer coordinator and also provided insight on why people volunteer.

According to the site Energize, Inc., an international training, consulting and publishing firm that specializes in volunteerism, they define the word "volunteer" as:

Volunteer, verb - To choose to act in recognition of a need, with an attitude of social responsibility and without concern for monetary profit, going beyond one's basic obligations (Ellis).

There are many ways to define volunteer but I think that this definition really captures the essence of the heart behind volunteering. A person is acting out because they see a need and they want to address it with a generous attitude through giving of their time and skills. I asked Harry why he thought people volunteer and he explained that they want to contribute to an organization that impacts a community. They want their time to matter and they realize that helping a nonprofit can make a large impact in their community and in their own lives. There is also a social aspect to it: it's fun and enjoyable to volunteer and serve with others whether it is on a regular basis or only once a year. The nonprofit sector is greatly dependent on volunteers to help with daily operations, events, grant writing, and much more. The time, knowledge and skills provided by volunteers are essentially priceless.

The time spent with Harry this morning was both enlightening and very informative on the aspect of volunteering. Tomorrow I will be meeting with the current Volunteer Coordinator of Feeding America Southwest Virginia and will bring you more detailed information on how this position is organized and gain information on the dual purpose of volunteering in that the nonprofit's mission will be advanced while also engaging the volunteers so that they will have a memorable and worthwhile time.

But for now I want you to consider what you are passionate about.
  • What stories have you heard?
  • What have you experienced firsthand that have formed your thoughts and have driven you to volunteer?
And if you haven't volunteered then search out a nonprofit, church, or other organization that fits your interests and passions. No matter how large or small our skills are we can all serve - it's simple and even the smallest of acts will create a ripple effect that will impact a community.

For more information on volunteering and on opportunities with Feeding America Southwest Virginia please visit:

Defintion from:
Ellis, Susan. "How We Define "Volunteer" for Energize...and What Is Not Volunteering to Us." Energize, Inc. Especially for leaders of volunteers . Energize, Inc., n.d. Web. 25 Jun 2013.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

For the kids!

The Summer Food Service Program sites have finally got underway as this week I have had the privilege of visiting the locations to do reviews and interact with the children. It's been long overdue, as during the past two weeks Jackie Cundiff, the Children's Program Manager here at FASWVA, and I have been going to sites to train the members of the partnering agencies that will be acting as the site supervisors. Needless to say, it has been a time filled with a lot of driving and explanation of materials. So let me share one of the more exciting highlights of this week and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 

Connections Program at Price's Fork Elementary-Blacksburg, VA
I had the opportunity to visit Price's Fork on Tuesday morning and visit the Connections Program which is specifically geared for children to keep them active over the summer through educational activities and games while also creating a time for them to make new friends. The group that I interacted with had children in kindergarten up to 6th grade. When I got there they were enjoying their snack provided by Feeding America Southwest Virginia and I was sure to ask them if they liked it and many of them spoke up and said that it was quite good. This summer we recieved new vendors for the food service programs and so it has provided us with more and better options for the kids. We want the kids to eat but at the same time we want them to enjoy the food as well - something that I am sure all of you can agree with - everyone loves good food! During snack we watched an episode of the Magic School Bus which had a focus on bats so this provided the supervisors with a great segue after the snack to talk about bats. The kids were super fascinated with the echo location ability of bats - where they use sound waves to see instead of using their eyes. From there we moved to the computer lab to focus on the learning objective for the week: Character. The children were tasked to pick their favorite fictional hero from a book or movie and then do research on their character traits and make it into a short presentation that they would give to the class. It was fun to hear about the characters that the kids chose, one young boy chose the Hulk because he liked how he was so strong. Another young boy who loved to laugh chose Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean, a fitting choice as Jack Sparrow could provide for a lot of laughs. The supervisor asked me to pick a character and share it with the kids and so I chose Sully from Monsters, Inc. for his bravery and willingness to always look out for his friends...the kids loved it!

It was a great experience to see kids having fun and learning whether it was about bats, the character traits of their favorite hero, or computer technology in general. Even with all of the fun and knowledge being shared it was also wonderful to see the kids being fed. I could see that these children were learning a lot and were constantly taking in new experiences and the food is an important piece for them in that development of leading healthy and exciting lives. What experiences have you had with child hunger?

The entryway of Price's Fork Elementary, definitely a fun and exciting place full of sensory objects and color. If I was still in elementary school this is where I would want to be!

This experience is just a taste of what is to come as I have visits to multiple Vacation Bible Schools at churches across the area, along with the Summer Enrichment Program and Big Brothers Big Sisters of southwest Virginia in Roanoke in addition to many more. So stay tuned and get ready for some more exciting times. If you have any experiences with children at school, in sports, or in an organization I would love to hear about them, please comment!   

For more information on our children's programs take a look at our page at

Monday, June 17, 2013

Go without food...

Hunger in America Study 2014 at Greater Triumph Missionary Baptist Church in Chatham, VA

It was a small space in the bottom level of a church. There was room for people to come in and stand, a serving area for the boxes of food, and a refrigerator and freezer along with a few shelves for storage. Some of the walls weren't completely painted and it smelled a little musty in the small space. They were using paper and pencil to keep track of those that came in to receive their food - compared to some pantries that are using computers and organizational software. Then, the last thing that anyone expected, the power went out from a storm blowing through which meant no lights and the possibility of food spoiling in the freezer and refrigerator. The atmosphere at the pantry felt vulnerable and almost helpless.

But out of this scene three dedicated women that run the church food pantry showed up because they knew that they needed to be there. They wanted to serve and provide food for to those in need - even if only three people came in to receive food that day. The Hunger Study team was only able to approach the second person that came in because of randomness requirement of the survey. The gentlemen respectfully declined and stated that he didn't have enough time to take the survey. As you can see, we didn't have much success in regards to the Hunger Study but that is part of the experience. There are times where we will have the chance to approach 20 to 30 people to take the survey and we gain a ton of data...then there are other times like in Chatham where there is no data to be taken and it could be deemed a failure.

But was it a failure? For me, it was a success. I asked questions and observed - I found out that the Greater Triumph food pantry has been in operation for 40 years; That it is entirely ran by volunteers from the church and many times they scrape by in finding help, money, and food but through it all they continue to serve. I also asked how many people they serve in a week - they said that it is anywhere between 3 and 14. My first thought was, only 14? That's it? The last pantry visit I made in Danville, VA served 150 people in one day. But with that kind of thinking I would see 14 people go without food....go without food...think about that for a moment. The consequences of this happening are immense and herein lies the mission of Feeding America Southwest Virginia, "Our mission is to feed Southwest Virginia's hungry through a network of partners and engage our region in the fight to end hunger."

The mission is to feed people and engage the community and that is why we help small food pantries such as the one at Greater Triumph Missionary Baptist Church. Our network of food pantries greatly varies across the southwest Virginia area with some feeding hundreds of people a month and then some feeding 20. But at the end of the day the large numbers don't matter - if it was just 1 person being fed then that would be a success. No one should go without food...and that statement is what I and many others here at Feeding America Southwest Virginia are trying to achieve.

I have copied a couple of links below to the food safety website for proper handling during the event of a power outage. While we were at the food pantry we were making sure that all foods that were frozen or refrigerated were safe to give out. The last thing we want to happen is for someone to get sick. I hope you find the information useful!

Refrigerated food during power outages:
Frozen food and power outages:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Love the Problem!

I saw an interesting quote on Twitter yesterday that really struck me...

"Focus more on falling in love with the problems you want to solve rather than your initial ideas." -Eric Paley

So many times we come up with ideas and keep coming up with more ideas to fix problems but then these ideas are never implemented. It highlights an aspect where many of us are dreamers and wish to travel, maybe start a business or nonprofit, or we seek to make a lot of money so that we can give it away through charity. But as I have seen with myself, these dreams stay dreams and never reach reality. That's what this quote really hits at... if you come up with an idea that will help solve a problem, then run with it and do your very best to execute it and bring it to fruition. If that idea doesn't work, then think of a new one. There are many problems out there waiting to be solved!

It all circles back to "loving the problem". If we love it and long for it to be fixed, then we will come up with a multitude of ideas. Many of them may not work but there is a good chance you will find the one that does. Then there could be some real-world change.

What problems do you love?

Food insecurity is a problem that we are trying to solve at Feeding America Southwest Virginia. We encourage ideas and always love help!

Monday, June 10, 2013


A nonprofit can encompass many different terms. Whether it be charity, philanthropy, social good, impact, finances, mission, vision...the list could go on. One thing I know for sure and something that I have seen through varying experiences with nonprofits is that there is always a new obstacle to get over each time that you walk into the office. These obstacles can be donor relations, securing funds, coordinating with volunteers, and the continual management of staff and the board. All of these and more call for a great amount of flexibility and perseverance in order for a nonprofit to remain successful and advance in their mission. But these obstacles can also provide for a large amount of uncertainty.    

This morning I met with Pamela Irvine, the President and CEO of Feeding America Southwest Virginia. I learned a lot and it was very enlightening to see her point-of-view of the state of food insecurity in Southwest Virginia and our nation. Honestly, it is a glaring and very large problem but, today, there is much work being done and innovative processes being put in place to combat the problem of hunger. One such process is simply viewing a food bank with a different mindset. Instead of viewing it as a warehouse where food comes in and then is shipped out, it is viewed as a multi-million dollar food distribution system that is complex and sophisticated. This food system calls for business principles to manage finances and for streamlined logistics that help in the distribution of an estimated 22 million pounds of food from Feeding America Southwest Virginia each year. It also calls for accurate record keeping to ensure accountability with partner agencies and the clients they serve to satisfy various regulatory groups. Then there is development which strives each and every day to secure funding through grants, private donations, partnerships, and fundraising events, while also being sure to create awareness through creative and effective marketing. All of this is part of a strategic plan which is used to make sure that FASWVA is moving forward and achieving their goals in combating hunger.

The business concept and principles, as well as the programming, are really good. But, then, the reality that Feeding America Southwest Virginia is a nonprofit comes to light and the uncertainty of it all shows through. There may be days where it's a struggle to find funds to keep a cherished program alive. A truck that hauls food may break down, the roof to the food bank may begin leaking, a large supplier of food can no longer give, or an employee decides to retire or leave. The uncertainty creeps in and provides for very challenging moments in the nonprofit world. For me, this is where the life of it all is - the opportunity to participate in a realm that is full of unexpected obstacles but that all lead to serving others and providing for a community in need. I asked Pamela this morning what she wished she would have known when she started working for food banks, something she could share with me as I am just getting started in my journey.

And she said, It's really hard feeding people and it takes a lot of work, but in the end it is so rewarding to see the uncertainty turn to miraculous moments of change at Feeding America Southwest Virginia and among the so many people that we serve.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Summer Food Service Program!

It's Friday and my first full week is drawing to an end! It has been filled with meetings, excellent conversations, reading, exploring the Salem and Roanoke, VA areas, in addition to continuing to learn the inner workings of the Feeding America Southwest Virginia food bank. Along with participating in all of these varying activities I also had the chance to experience a Hunger Study as mentioned in my previous post and also take part in site training for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) for children. Now again, just as I explained the Hunger in America 2014 study, let me explain this excellent program as well.

When school is in session food insecure children have access to free or reduced price breakfast and lunch programs, as well as after school programs that provide meals and snacks. The Summer Food Service Program was established to ensure that food insecure children continue to receive nutritious meals during the summer break.  Free meals that meet Federal nutrition guidelines are provided to all children at approved SFSP sites in areas with significant concentrations of food insecure children. In order for a site to be eligible to participate in the program it must be located in a school attendance area where 50 % or more of the children residing in the area are eligible for free or reduced price school meals. These programs across the southwest Virginia area are all about feeding kids, but the sites also include programming to provide an educational aspect for the kids, whether it be learning technology in a computer lab, making crafts, or going on field trips. This added benefit provides an avenue for the children to learn more about themselves and others through educational activities in addition to being fed a healthy meal.

In my time with FASWVA this summer I am focusing the majority of my attention to these programs through training the SFSP sites then returning to monitor and complete a review of the sites to make sure that they are following specific guidelines set by the USDA and Feeding America. Now, I can imagine from my explanation that this doesn't sound like the most exciting position as it may seem that I will just be filling out large stacks of paperwork. Quite the contrary - I am very excited to be able to work with these sites and interact with the children! One site that I visited yesterday was the Summer Enrichment Program at a local church in the Roanoke area. The enrichment program is run by volunteers and they serve 100 children per day for the whole month of July. While going through the training and informing them of the guidelines for the program I could see that with about 3 weeks before the start of their program that they were eager to get started. They're incredibly excited and they can't wait to serve!

Over the summer I will be making many posts on the Summer Food Service Program highlighting the work that Feeding America Southwest Virginia is doing in the area through the feeding of children along with the programming of the sites. I am passionate about service and working with children and I can't wait to see the impact when these two passions align.

More information about the Summer Food Service Program and other programs can be viewed at:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hunger in America 2014

Hunger Study at God's Storehouse in Danville, VA
On Monday June 3rd, myself and 2 other Feeding America Southwest Virginia employees took a trip to Danville, VA to perform the Hunger Study at a local food pantry, God's Storehouse. Now before I dive into this more, let me explain the details of the study.
Hunger in America, also known as the Hunger Study, is the largest study of charitable food assistance in America. Hunger in America 2014 is the most recent in a series of Hunger Studies, which are conducted every four years. Feeding America is the primary sponsor of this study, with generous funding from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The purpose of the Hunger in America study is two-fold. First, it will collect information on the current work of the Feeding America network of food banks. This includes collecting data from agencies such as food pantries that receive food and grocery items from food banks and from the actual clients they serve. This information will help Feeding America, and its national network of 200 food banks, to better understand the agencies they work with to provide hunger relief. Second, the study will also identify issues faced by both agencies and the clients they serve.  This will enable Feeding America to better advocate for government assistance and support fundraising efforts by better educating their donors and the public about the scope of services provided by food banks.
My visit to the God's Storehouse food pantry was the first time I witnessed programs for food insecure families and individuals. It was a gripping experience and I got a first hand account of the problems that Southwest Virginia has with food insecurity and access. I can honestly say that I went into the experience with many preconceptions of the people that I would see and the interactions that I would be a part of. But these were blown out of the water as I soon noticed that there were people being served from all walks of life. One client in particular that stuck out to me was a man who had come in for the first time to receive food. When he first walked through the door he seemed upset and frustrated that he was there as he was being asked questions about his eligibility to receive food. He was randomly selected to participate in the Hunger Study, so I approached him. As soon as I started talking his face lit up and he was excited to help. He explained to me that he had just lost his job and had been doing his very best to pay bills and that he had just spent a few hundred dollars to fix his car. Then before he knew it, he had depleted his finances and didn't have enough money to buy food to support his family. And through all of that he was open and willing to participate in the study in order to inform Feeding America on how to better serve the pantries and clients they support. Filling out a survey isn't a very exciting prospect but he knew that filling it out would play a small but very significant part in a larger picture of service.
It was a very humbling experience and I know that it will stick with me for the rest of my life. In moving forward, I can confidently say that I am excited to participate in more studies and participate in the many other opportunities that will come with being a part of Feeding America Southwest Virginia.

Find out more about Hunger in America at:

There is always a beginning...

Everything has happened so fast and I am beyond excited to start my summer internship with Feeding America of Southwest Virginia or FASWVA. The opportunities that have been presented to me by this organization have been endless and I am honored to be able to participate in this special work of helping communities and creating lasting change. This blog will be a journal of sorts of my time and experiences in working on the Summer Food Service Programs and also helping to continue the development efforts of FASWVA. So here goes to a summer filled with learning experiences, challenges, and many changes all wrapped in fun and exciting times. I know one thing for sure, is that I will walk away from this experience with many lasting memories.