Finding meaning, community through volunteering

By Published On: January 31st, 2022

From left, volunteers Lisa, Diana and Laurie sort perishable donations in the Food Share’s retail recovery area.

Wednesday afternoon shifts at the Food Share’s warehouse are a favorite to volunteers Lisa, Diana, and Laurie, as they fill the space with laughter and conversation. They are among a core group of volunteers who have bonded after working together in the retail recovery area every week for several months. There, they sort and process perishable foods donated by grocery and retail partners.

Their tasks include inspecting and repacking produce and sorting through dairy, eggs, bread, grab-and-go foods and other fresh items in order to ensure they’re reaching pantry guests at their peak freshness.

Last fiscal year, volunteers helped sort 3 million pounds of food donated by dozens of local partners. The items that are recovered might otherwise be discarded by stores and provide hungry children, families and seniors with access to healthy, fresh foods to supplement the shelf-stable offerings that are abundant at most pantries.

All three women are recent retirees who started volunteering at the Food Share out of a desire to stay involved and help their neighbors, but the connections they’ve made are a big part of what keeps them coming back.

When she first started volunteering, Laurie says, “I was kind of nervous because I knew there would be people I didn’t know. Now I would never volunteer any day besides Wednesday afternoons because I love my people.”

“I love my people, too!” adds Lisa, who moved to the Salem area from Virginia in early 2020 and began volunteering at the Food Share shortly afterward.

“I moved here during COVID. I only knew a few people and everything was closed, so I never had an opportunity to connect with others,” she continues. “But once I found this joint, my life improved!”

For Diana, working in the retail recovery area is a great way to serve neighbors as part of a tight-knit group of volunteers who can share laughs and enjoy one another’s company and conversation while working to end hunger in our community.

“I can’t take care of the [whole] world, but I can at least help in my own neighborhood,” she says. “And the group, what can I say? We’re like three or four peas in a pod.”