At Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, Volunteering Is A Family Affair
When Kaye Kelly and her children began volunteering with Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, they already had many years of family volunteering experience under their proverbial belt from actually building homes with Habitat for Humanity to picking up sticks and sweeping floors on construction sites.
“They were brought up in service. It’s just something that’s been in me and now all of my children do it too,” she explained nonchalantly in a recent conversation with United Way.
Kaye grew up in the country in what she calls “borderline poverty” and while she loved people and tried to do her best to help when she could, her family didn’t emphasize the value of giving back through service. According to Kaye, she didn’t have a lot but when she got a job with AT&T out of high school, she knew she wanted to do more to give back.
“It’s where I get my joy from,” she shares.
Now more than eight years after their first experience with Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, Kaye’s family of volunteers has grown to include her four grandchildren as well.
The Kelly family makes up just seven of the 265 volunteers that the organization coordinates monthly in their efforts to end hunger in the Triangle region.
Volunteers are the backbone of Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s operation and according to Susan Meador, Volunteer Services Director, they “serve in every arena of Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s mission” from packing and delivering grocery bags for seniors — like the Kelly family — to packing and preparing food for the organization’s BackPack Buddies program, which feeds more than 3,000 of the region’s youngest residents each weekend.
And it doesn’t stop there. Volunteers teach community members about nutrition through their Community Health Education and Urban Agriculture Education Program and help to actually grow healthy food at their 14-acre farm in Southwest Raleigh as a way to augment the organization’s food source. Volunteers also keep the organization afloat by assisting with administrative tasks in compliance, development, and office management.
“Volunteers served 35,120 hours in the 2018-19 [fiscal year], which is more than the hours of 16 full-time employees,” shares Susan. “They are critical to the fulfillment of our mission and we simply could not reach as many people without them.”
Those hours will change in 2020 though. With the current COVID-19 crisis, the organization’s Board of Directors made the difficult decision to suspend most volunteer activities starting March 23 in an effort to protect the health of both volunteers and staff. That decision was made despite seeing a 200% increase in volunteer interest that month.
The organization is also quickly adapting their strategies so their team can continue providing food through new and changing channels to their current clients as well as those now experiencing hardship as a result of the pandemic.
“While still meeting needs through agencies and distribution sites, we have had more calls from individuals asking if they can come to our office to pick up food,” Susan says. “We are quickly and nimbly responding to the critical food access issue across our service territory.”
For now, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle is focused on having enough food on hand to assemble the boxes and meals needed to respond to the community’s increased needs during the crisis, with plans to distribute at least 1,000 emergency boxes, 500 mixed meal boxes, and to prepare 5,000 quick-frozen meals per week for at least the next 10 weeks. Their ability to continue providing these programs is dependent on having enough non-perishable and perishable food items, which Susan says is becoming increasingly difficult to source.
“78% of families in the U.S. are living paycheck to paycheck, meaning more families than ever will need the Food Shuttle over the coming weeks and months. More locally, Wake County has an estimated 138,639 families, or 10.2%, living in poverty with children under the age of 18.”
For more information about how to support Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, visit their website at www.foodshuttle.org.