Volunteer Spotlight: Jud Richards

When did you start volunteering at the Food Bank?

I did volunteer orientation in October 2019 and started working in January or February of 2020, so a little over three years working Mondays and Thursdays each week. After only a month or two of volunteering the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown happened. During the pandemic I continued to volunteer two shifts a week like many other volunteers and we all kept it going, we had no disruption to food delivery. If the food bank was open, I was there. 

What are your typical volunteer responsibilities?

I help with grocery rescue, back of house, and packing supplies for families at Seattle Children’s hospital.

Grocery rescue is all about food security and reducing food waste. I rescue food from PCC in Green Lake regularly and when needed I will fill in for other volunteers or staff and pick up from Trader Joe’s in the U-District, among other retailers

It’s amazing to see how many pounds of groceries are donated from PCC and Trader Joe’s. It really helps to fill our shelves with additional produce, bread, frozen items, canned goods and more. I’ll pick up the food then we sort it, check expiration dates and stock it on the shelves. We also pick up baked goods from local bakeries like Madison Park Bakery, which is nice to offer shoppers locally baked items.

Most of our grocery partners take it very seriously, PCC and Trader Joe’s are both in that camp and they make sure to give us quality items.

For back of the house, I work on stocking the shelves, making sure they are full and ready for shoppers, I help keep our backstock full and organized, and sort produce and grocery rescue items. I’ll also operate the pallet jack as needed, and the cardboard baler to compact all the cardboard boxes and keep the space clean. 

Then once a week I work on grocery packs for Seattle Children’s hospital. We’ll provide several days’ worth of food for patients and families in long term care. They get a list of grocery items we offer and choose what they’d like for the week. We work to have culturally relevant foods as well as offering halal or kosher foods. We’ve served families of up to 8 people with these packs and it can go a long way to help stretch grocery budgets while their children are receiving care at the hospital. 

What is your favorite part about volunteering? 

It’s the people – the volunteers and the customers. The people I’ve met here have great stories and interesting backgrounds, and it makes returning twice a week something I look forward to. 

My background is in tech which is a privileged community of people and I really enjoy the diversity at the Food Bank. I also feel compelled to give back and help others, it’s a good feeling and a big part of why I personally keep volunteering.

Why should others volunteer at the Food Bank? 

Food security is critical these days with a lot of unmet needs in our community. We can all do our part to ensure those needs are met as best we can, and you get to meet some great people along the way. 

What else do you want people to know about the Food Bank community? 

The food bank is really a hub for other services that the city offers, it’s focused on food security but there are vaccine drives, access to literature about available resources, an office phone that customers can use to make calls to family or check in with local agencies. The Food Bank is doing everything within its means to help people. They work hard in good faith and make every attempt to meet someone’s needs. 

Volunteer Spotlight: Jess Levine 

Meet Jess Levine, aka the Mayor of the University District Food Bank, who has been consistently volunteering with us for ten years!! He finds so much joy and purpose in volunteering with the Food Bank that he bookends his weeks with a Monday and Friday shift, noting that he’s one of the few people who really looks forward to Mondays. And we look forward to having him!

When did you start volunteering at the Food Bank?

December of 2013 was my first time volunteering here. When I started, we were in the former food bank space in the church basement, a very small space so we all worked close together. When the new space opened, we were so spread out it was strange at first but quickly we came to love how much room we had to get our work done.

Volunteer work has always been a big part of my life. I came to Seattle 25 years ago from Chicago and was involved in a school for children in homeless situations, then I was involved with CASA for seven years which was very rewarding, same as the food bank. I have a background in education working with intercity kids in Chicago and when I was no longer engaged in that work it was important for me to continue serving the community. 

What are your typical volunteer responsibilities?

I work in all kinds of roles, whatever needs to be done that day. I’ll work in the back, help with sorting produce, dry goods and eggs, unload the truck, make PB&Js… I don’t care what it is I’ll just chat people up and have a good time doing the work.

I love meeting new people. Any time I see a new volunteer I greet them and welcome them in. People joke that I’m the Mayor of the Food Bank because I love talking and saying hello to everyone.   

What is your favorite part about volunteering? 

I love the people and the community. There’s a crew of volunteers on Mondays who have been doing this for a long time. Pam, Betsey and I have all become close friends (we’ve been nicknamed PB&J) and we’ll socialize after our shifts, my wife has met so many new friends through my time volunteering here!  

There are many more women than men volunteering at the Food Bank, and I don’t know why that is but we need more men to step up and volunteer their time!

Why should others volunteer at the Food Bank? 

I read an article recently and it said at the end: volunteering is good for the soul. I couldn’t agree more. I personally get so much out of volunteering and being of service to others. If we’re not here to help each other why are we here at all? 

I’ve had volunteer work in my life for as long as I can remember, and it’s always given me purpose. I went to an integrated grammar school on the southside of Chicago in the 1950s. We were middle class and I saw firsthand the disparities in equity between me and my friends and it didn’t feel right to me. My parents were philanthropic and socially responsible so helping people just came naturally. 

What else do you want people to know about the Food Bank community? 

There’s a real sense of collegiality here, it’s not hierarchical. They make you feel at home and the staff is very responsive and supportive. I’ve done volunteer work for 37 years and this is as good as it gets. The shoppers are so appreciative, I’ve gotten to know so many of them and look forward to chatting.

I also don’t burn out here, the work is so important. Food is the most essential basic need, and if we aren’t capable of tackling that issue then we’re in trouble. Food scarcity is something we have the capacity to address if we work together. 

Meet Karilynn Cooper, our Community Connector

Where did you grow up?

Born and raised in Sacramento, CA. 

What is your background? 

For my educational background I earned a BA in social work from Cal State Sacramento. Professionally I spent 7-8 years doing various social work or case management roles at a variety of organizations. I worked with AmeriCorps in Spokane and that brought me to Seattle in 2015. I’ve worked with people living with HIV, people with substance disorders and severe mental illness. 

When did you start at University District Food Bank?

Late September of 2021. My title is Community Connector officially, but I also go by Community Engagement and Resource Specialist.  My role can also be referred to as a social worker. I help our shoppers obtain various resources including housing, SNAP benefits and more.

What is your role within the organization?

I prioritize client work and spend at least 50 percent of my time with clients of the Food Bank, but it varies day to day based on what our clients need. I operate a walk-in program to make it easier for customers to have access to my services vs. making appointments. This helps to meet people where they are at and not feel constrained or that they will miss an appointment. I will also offer appointments if that’s easier for another client.

Shoppers find me by word of mouth typically I also have cards and flyers around the Food Bank to inform someone who might be new. Customers often come in to shop and ask if we have someone who can help them with accessing services. 

Some needs are quick and simple, and others require a lot of help. I will meet with them as many times as it takes to get them the access to the resources they need. If their needs go above my abilities, I will recommend them to other local services.

What is the most fulfilling aspect of your work?

I love the relational part of the job, not so much the paperwork! I have a lot of regular customers that I’ve bonded with over the last year. Some will come in just to touch base about their life – share their triumphs or setbacks. I love that they are comfortable to come to me and share this info. 

I encourage people to come back and share updates and keep in touch, I love those moments with them. It’s a difficult job for sure and those are the parts that keep me sane and keep me going.

The most difficult part of this position is seeing the many setbacks within the systems in place and the hoops that customers must jump through. As a society we’re not prepared to care for people who are chronically homeless. This has required me to change my outlook in order to move forward and be present with clients. It’s taught me to celebrate the small wins. 

I’ve seen a lot of small wins over the last year and positive changes in people. And it’s important for our customers to have someone who holds on to those wins for them, someone who notices how hard they are working and acknowledges that. 

What would you like our donors and volunteers to know about the Food Bank?

I want to extend gratitude to the volunteers and staff. They have such strong relationships with our clients that it makes it easier for customers to trust me because they know we all have their best interest in mind. Thank you to everyone who makes this community go around. 

Meet Liz Benko, Our Packs For Kids Coordinator

Meet Liz Benko an incredible volunteer who runs our Packs For Kids program, providing weekend meals for local children. She’s made such a difference in so many lives and is always working to find creative ways to save money on purchasing, and even helped supply more than 250 laptops for local students in the schools we partner with. Read on to learn more about this important program and how you can donate or volunteer!

When did you start volunteering at the Food Bank?

I started as a volunteer in late 2019 not long before everything shut down for Covid. In 2021 I took over as a volunteer coordinator for the Packs For Kids program. 

Tell us a little about your background?

I was an architect and project manager for many years and moved on from that career. I felt I wasn’t making a difference in the world and helping my community in the way that I wanted to. I was raised by parents who went out of their way to teach about being a part of the community and doing what you can to contribute time, energy and talents. 

What is the Packs for Kids program at University District Food Bank?

The program started in the early 2000s with one local school after Food Bank staff learned about the food insecurity that many children faced on the weekends. They were receiving free breakfast and lunch at school but what happened on the weekends?

Food Bank staff partnered with parents at Eckstein Middle School and started the program with just 15 kids. They would supply a pack filled with enough nutritious food for one child to eat at home over the weekend and not worry about their next meal. By the end of that year they had 6 or 7 schools on board!

Today we serve 14 Seattle schools and 700 kids in grades K-12. The foods we include are easy enough for the youngest children to prepare at home for themselves and we’ve worked with nutritionists to ensure that our packs meet nutritional standards – we buy prepared and shelf stable items that include trail mix, apple sauce, mac and cheese cups, shelf stable milks – foods that they enjoy and meet our standards.

How many families utilize it each week?

We serve almost 700 kids in Northeast Seattle, and our numbers are continuing to grow.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love the idea of helping kids who need it. I really believe every child deserve access to healthy food, it’s a human right. I also love connecting with my community and working with parent and staff volunteers, getting feedback about what the kids need. We have an amazing team of volunteers as well that keep this program alive. More volunteers are always welcome!

What is something our community may not know about Packs For Kids?

It’s the most expense per client program we operate because we need to ensure everything is easy for kids to prepare and eat. To achieve this we purchase 90-95% of the food in the packs and our grocery bills are increasing this year, just like everyone else’s. 

In the last calendar year, the cost has increased 20% per child. Without more funding and financial support from our community there is a physical limit to the program.

Tell us about securing 263 laptops from Interconnection for kids in 2021!

It’s such a fantastic partnership! I helped coordinate with all schools we work with on our Packs For Kids program to get counts for how many students needed laptops. Interconnection in Seattle really understood our needs and there was no barrier to access, families did not need to give any personal information or prove eligibility to receive a computer. They ended up donating 263 laptops to local school children in grades K-12! 

Interconnection is committed to digital equity and runs a store in Wallingford. Please check them out online or at their store and support how you can. interconnection.org

Meet Lena our Food Access Program Coordinator

Lena Kabeshita is one of the Food Bank’s three new team members who came to us through our partnership with AmeriCorps. She joined us in October 2021 to manage our two satellite pantries at North Seattle College and Mercy Magnuson and is such an important part of the work we do for the north Seattle community!

Originally from Illinois, Lena was living and interning in Yakima before coming to Seattle. She is a recent college graduate with a major in soil and crop science and a minor in women and gender studies. 

What is your role at the Food Bank?

I am the Pantry Program Coordinator and I manage our two offsite pantries – North Seattle College on Tuesday nights and Mercy Magnuson place on Wednesday afternoons. I’m responsible for ordering food for the pantries, bringing the food over to each pantry and making sure they are running smoothly. I also coordinate 8-12 volunteers per week to help run the pantries.

Why were these satellite pantries created?

The satellite pantries pre-date the pandemic and were created to serve areas of need in North Seattle where there’s not a food bank nearby or affordable grocery stores. The North Seattle College Pantry was intended to support food insecure students at the college, but it has expanded beyond the student community and grown overall to fill a need among additional North Seattle households. In January 2022 we served 50 student households, 9 staff households, and 98 community member households. 

We purchase food specifically for these pantries each week, then set up and break down on Tuesdays and Wednesdays but each runs a little differently. North Seattle College offers prepacked food in bags and then shoppers choose their protein with a drive-through and walk-up service style. Magnuson is more of a shopping model where guests walk through and choose what they want for the week.

How many families do you serve per week? 

In January at Magnuson we served 320 households for the month and in North Seattle we served 229 households for the month. I want to give a big shout out to the volunteers who dedicate time each week to support these pantries. Their work is invaluable, and I couldn’t operate without them!

One of our regular volunteers at our Magnuson pantry passed away in February. His name was John Tuttle and he had been volunteering at Magnuson for the last year. I want to thank him for all his hard work and dedication to our cause, he will be missed by all of us.