By Peter Buttenheim, Food Bank of Delaware Volunteer
Peter is one of many dedicated volunteers. This piece recently appeared in the opinion section of The News Journal. Peter’s article is especially fitting today as we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on this national day of service.
“Get Out and Live — Volunteer” was the motto of a series of public service announcements on AM radio last fall. During these last two years of hard times, resulting from a needless, man-made economic downturn, millions of people are out of work, and the pressures on social service agencies are greater than ever. The need for hard-working and dedicated volunteers has never been greater across the First State.
Like every other social service agency, the Food Bank of Delaware (hereafter the FBD…) relies on many volunteers to fufill its mission to end hunger in Delaware.
Every Thursday morning — all year — four stawart volunteers make their way to the FBD kitchen area. In the course of each Thursday, these four volunteers will assemble over 600 sandwiches — with little packets of carrots or celery sticks to accompany the sandwiches — and then prepare over 800 hot after-school snack meals — that look like smaller versions of 1950s TV Dinners. These snacks and meals will be delivered to children all over Northern Delaware by the three FBD vans.
Who are these amazing volunteers, and why do they give up their “free” time to volunteer rather than use that time for their own interests and purposes? After two years of volunteering at the FBD, I think that I can shed some light on the reasons why these four people, and so many others, volunteer. But, first, let me introduce the reader to the Thursday morning team at the FBD.
LOUISE JAMISON — The acknowledged leader of the team, Louise comes from Newark, DE. Before moving to Delaware in 2007, Louise worked for Captal Health as a Supervisor in Capital’s Food Nutrition Department in Trenton, NJ. Louise comes by her vast knowledge of food, nutrition, and hunger both naturally and from her previous work.
Louise is a serious mother and grandmother with exacting standards. However, she also has a very dry sense of humor, a wry smile, and a hearty laugh. These qualities keep all the other volunteers moving forward.
In 2008, while volunteering at the senior citizens center in Newark, Louise read an article about the need for volunteers at the FBD. So, she answered the call right away. Louise believes in the concept of TEAM. She was brought up to share. She decries today’s over-emphasis on greed in America. She thinks if we all enjoyed one another and helped one another fully, then there would be far fewer problems — such as poverty and hunger — in the world.
When Gaylan, the Manager of the Hot Meal Production Line, says that it is time to start, Louise dons her baseball hat and rubber gloves and takes her rightful place at the head of the serving line. With a hearty laugh, she says, “It’s time to get past oneself!” To Louise, life today is too much about “me” and not enough about”we” and “us.” No one is surprised that Louise encourages everyone she knows to become a volunteer.
MARTY HAYBURN — Next on the line is Marty Hayburn from Bear, DE. Marty volunteers at the FBD two days a week and also assist at Autism Delaware. Marty “retired” from Blue Cross/Blue Shield in 2008, but he immediately wanted “to do other things.” On the hot-meal line, Marty runs the shrink-wrap machine that seals the hot-meal trays.
When asked why he enjoys volunteering, Marty smiles and says that he LIKES making sandwiches and being on the hot-meal line. He enjoys working with the other dedicated volunteers because Marty likes to meet people. And, he says, “I need a reason to get up and get out each day.” Like Louise, Marty has a subtle sense of humor, but, on the serious side, he believes that volunteering has given him important things to do with his life beyond his former full-time job. Marty says that volunteer work brings both sanity and meaning to his life.
DOTTIE LAYTON — Dottie hails from Wilmington, and she has been a FBD volunteer for over a year. First and foremost, Dottie was a nurse! When she retired from nursing, she worked as a Pharmacy Technician at Happy Harry’s until 2009. Dottie would like to become a volunteer Pharmacy Technician at Christiana Hospital, but, until that time comes, she volunteers twice a week at the FBD.
Like Lousie and Marty, Dottie is already a veteran sandwich maker and hot-meal server. She enjoys “giving back” to the greater community. Dottie says emphatically, “If everyone did her/his fair share of voluntering, our nation’s problems would diminish greatly!”
Dottie likes making new friends among her co workers. She appreciates hearing new and different points of view on the food line. (Note — we discuss everything as we work!)Dottie also does not want to sit at home in an “empty nest.” Dottie found her way to the FBD by watching a TV show about hunger in Delaware. As she watched, she said, “a light came on” telling her to volunteer at the FBD.
DOUG DRULINER — Doug lives in the Hockessin area. Like Louise, Marty, and Dottie, Doug is retired — after a 38 year career as a research chemist at Du Pont. Like the others, Doug has a warm, affable personality but a deep sense of commitment to helping others. Doug enjoys the chance to contribute time to the various tasks at the FBD. Doug says that he has always been committed to the idea of community service.
To Doug, food is the most fundamental need, and that is the reason why he chose to volunteer at the FBD. Doug likes the dedication and the camaraderie of the FBD staff and volunteers. When asked to summarize a philosophy of volunteerism, Doug quoted a friend who said to him, “What is achieved in a career is not as important as what one does today and tomorrow in retirement!”
None of these volunteers had any idea of the scope of the FBD’s operation when they began volunteering. They know that scope now:
- Nearly 1 in 4 of Delaware residents are at risk for hunger
- The FBD services 440 hunger-relief program partners.
- The need for food is as great in the summer months as it is in the winter months because so many children do not receive federally-supported breakfasts and lunches at school in the summer months.
So, why exactly do people like Louise, Marty, Dottie, and Doug volunteer? And, equally important, why should YOU become a volunteer? Here are some answers:
THE PROCESS — Going into a new environment, meeting new people, and learning about the needs of an organization is a very satisfying process for the new volunteer. The volunteer’s abilities, skills, and knowledge of the world grow with each new volunteer experience. Even if the volunteer work one is doing is very serious, the process can be both positive and rewarding.
THE PROJECT — With so many volunteer possibilities from which to choose, the new volunteer is free to select a project that she or he enjoys. For example, my wife is a great lover of books. She volunteers two mornings a week at the American Association of Univeristy Women’s Book Room in Wilmington. While the AAUW operates the Book Room, and hosts a once-a-year giant book sale at the Concord Mall to raise scholarshp funds for deserving young women in Delaware, my wife also simply enjoys sorting and pricing the books because of her great love of books. My wife is committed to the project itself.
DOING OTHER THINGS — In the past two years, I have spoken with other volunteers at St. Stephen’s Food Pantry and the FBD to ascertain why they volunteer. The answers are many and varied, but there is one common thread. Whether the volunteer is a high school student earning community service credits, a college student with one morning a week free of classes, a thirty-something person who has just lost a job, or a newly-retired person who does not wish to stay home and do nothing, these volunteers are all very happy to be doing, new. different, and other things by means of their volunteer work.
GREAT PEOPLE — When I worked in fundraising, my staff and I used to tell prospects that donors would live longer than non donors. Even though there was no hard data to prove this assertion, we just knew it to be true. I feel the same way about the great volunteers with whom I work. I believe that volunteers will live longer and happier lives than non-volunteers. Seriously, in two years, I have not met one cranky, “old,” or un-pleasant volunteer. My co-workers are genuinely glad to be doing volunteer work. Most have served in the same volunteer capacity for many years.
GIVING BACK — Almost every world religion has a passage that states something like, “To Whom Much is Given, Much is Required.” I believe that many volunteers — who are not struggling with issues such as food, clothing, shelter, and health — are motivated by this concept of “giving back.” Every volunteer makes an important contribution to the social fabric of our country every time she or he volunteers. Though the news is dominated by the work of legislators, executives, judges, business persons, lawyers, bankers, artists, and athletes, I believe that the greatest force for growth and change in America comes from our volunteers.
“Get Out and Live — Volunteer.” ABSOLUTELY!