Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. Ken Ackerman

(From left to right) Trevor, Dr. Ackerman, Wes

(From left to right) Trevor, Dr. Ackerman, Wes

By Trevor Turner, Lead Volunteer Coordinator

Volunteers are critical to our organization! We can’t do what we do without the help of the thousands of volunteers who come through our doors each year. We recently sat down with one of our regular volunteers, Dr. Ken Ackerman, to see what motivates him to volunteer! As you read along, you’ll begin to sense Dr. Ackerman’s sense of humor!

TT: How long have you been volunteering at the Food Bank of Delaware?

KA: I retired from the University of Delaware in December 2009 after roughly 50 years of teaching; 46 of them at UD.  I knew I wasn’t going to retire to “retirement,” but wanted to be doing something that I could feel good about doing.  In my imagination providing food seemed the most useful thing I could do with my time.  I knew about the Food Bank – though I’d never been there.  I called the Volunteer Coordinator and was invited to develop my own schedule.  I hit upon 1-4 p.m., MWF and it proved – then and now – workable and sufficient (sufficient, that is, for me.  I’m not a morning person and have been lucky for many years that I didn’t have to pretend to be.  In just over three years I’ve never been at the Food Bank before 12:30 p.m.  I was 76 when I started and am now 79.)

TT: Talk to me about some of the activities you do while volunteering.

KA: My tasks – and my understanding of them – have changed during the time I’ve been volunteering.  They also change as the Food Bank goes through it’s own seasons.  Tasks are different during the Summer Nutrition Program than during other times of the year; different near holiday seasons as well.

Initially I worked in groups; now I work mostly alone. That’s entirely to my liking.  I now know enough about the things that need doing. I try to remember always to ask what needs doing, but nowadays, more often than not, I see things that need doing when I walk in the door and get started on them and continue to do them until 4 p.m.  Happily, there’s no such animal as a typical day. Basically, I start work when I get out of my car – picking up stray pieces of paper that have blown across the grass.  Typically, I finish work in the same way.  Between stray paper in and stray paper out, it’s almost entirely a matter of looking to see what needs doing when the steel curtain goes up.

During the winter months, my day usually starts with sorting through perishable goods that are on the pallets nearest the door, then the refrigerator, then the gray and white boxes, then whatever catches my eye.  I then  head to the volunteer room to learn if there’s anything specific the coordinators want done.  There are few jobs done by FBD volunteers – indoors and out – that I haven’t done.

TT: Why do you enjoy volunteering?
Who says I enjoy it?  I do it for the money.  And the fame. And all the food that I eat while i’m there and/or carry off to put in my extensive home larders to be devoured later. TT: SIDE NOTE – KEN WAS JUST JOKING – HE’S A FUNNY GUY 🙂  And the opportunity to fill out questionnaires.  And confusing and being mean-spirited to the coordinators.  And occasionally seeing former students either down on their luck or volunteering.  Other than those things I hate it.  All other things aside, nice people, though.  A reason, I think, many people appreciate the opportunity to volunteer.  And having some autonomy.  And being trusted to do the right thing.  Though I only guess at that.  I may secretly be being watched! TT: Side note – I told you he was a funny guy…

TT: How does volunteering make you feel?
Warm and fuzzy!  All over! In other words, a difficult question to answer. Philosophically, it is a function of a conviction that lives should be lived – insofar as possible – in ways that make that living as useful to others as to oneself.  “To oneself” is an entirely personal matter.  “To others” isn’t guesswork if what one is doing – sweeping and mopping floors, cleaning refrigerators, evaluating the condition and serviceability of food containers, culling produce, discarding out-dated cans (every single one of which i HATE discarding), packing boxes, packing milk cartons, cleaning tables until they shine, etc., etc., etc., – will in the short or long run help deal with real human needs.  (I don’t play golf or tennis, and I’m not ready for park benches.)

TT: What would you say to others to encourage them to volunteer?
There are never enough hands to do all the world’s work. There really is a “warm and fuzzy,” though like many things you have to give in to it without embarrassment to experience it.  Volunteering at the Food Bank?  A slightly different question.

I’ve found it a place small enough so that – in time – you can get to know the place and the people (in your own sense of timing) as much or as little as your personal disposition permits.  The place and the people are encompassable.  I go in knowing I will enjoy the place and the people, enjoy doing things that need doing – even doing things others don’t think need doing – all pretty much on my own time with my own energy potential and my own motivation.

Try it; you’ll like it!  An old advertising phrase.  But my experience is that there’s a high probability that you’ll finish a day’s work knowing you’ve been doing something you’ll know or believe is useful.  It doesn’t get any better than…

TT: Thank you, Dr. Ackerman, for your commitment to a community free of hunger!



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