Our Unsung Heroes: Food Pantry Volunteers
While food banks and pantries heavily rely on food and financial donations, the very backbone of every food pantry in Okanogan County is the volunteers. Food banks and food pantries are run entirely by volunteers, and the amount of work that goes into that, is unfortunately, very often overlooked.
Did you know?
Volunteers at food banks and food pantries:
- Run every aspect of the food pantry from
- Set up the business side of a food pantry including the business license, 501c3 nonprofit tax status, and other required documentation.
- Plan, coordinate, recruit, train, run the operation, do inventory, and complete reports to stay in compliance with funders.
- Sometimes get yelled at, complained to, and treated poorly by clients.
- Do not get paid or incentivized in any way.
- Are very underappreciated and often go unrecognized for their contributions to the community.
- Have the biggest hearts and keep coming back.
Who and where and why?
Volunteers are essential in a food bank and/or pantry. Their “jobs” range from unloading trucks of food, weighing food donations, gleaning fresh produce, stocking shelves, to taking and tracking inventory. They also help recruit and train volunteers. When the doors open to clients, volunteers sign in and track client activity plus load bags and boxes of food, which they packed, into client vehicles. Every can, jar, bottle, package, or beverage in those boxes are put there by a volunteer. A volunteer that might already be working 40-hours a week at their full-time job, or a mom that helps out while the kids are in school and the spouse is at work, or a kind-hearted retired individual that just wants to be of assistance in their community however they can. These are people that have huge hearts, dedication, passion, determination, incredible work ethic, and “just want to help”.
Food banks and pantries are nonprofits, which means these volunteers are not only working with limited resources, time, and food, but doing so without compensation. Volunteers look to their community, friends, and family for additional support through recruiting more volunteers to the day-to-day operations. The process just to start a food bank or pantry is lengthy and requires a lot of work and time.
The Drive to Help
Once all of the legal paperwork side of things is set up to start a food bank or pantry, then the hard work starts to find food, volunteers, transportation to get food to the food pantry, space for the food bank or pantry, and funding to pay for everything from the building to refrigerators, freezers, shelving, counters, tables, cleaning supplies, bags/boxes, down to the smallest detail like trash bags.
This starts with a person’s idea or dream to feed hungry people. Once a food bank or pantry is up and running fully, it takes anywhere from 15 volunteers for a smaller food pantry to over 50 volunteers at a larger food pantry to keep the pantry running in Okanogan County. Imagine those numbers in a more populated area!
While all these volunteers are advocating for more food and working hard constantly to get that food to their clients, following all food safety, guidelines and regulations required by both state and federal levels with various degrees, all of this is usually gone unnoticed. They keep doing the hard work, with smiles on their faces, and most of it goes with very little to no recognition.
So next time you see a food pantry or food bank volunteer, take time to acknowledge the important role they play in helping feed the community by saying “thank you.”