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.