Volunteer Voices: Highlighting Volunteer Appreciation Month

At Feeding PA, the compassion and generosity of our member food banks’ volunteers nourish the souls of our neighbors experiencing food insecurity. Our member food banks simply couldn’t help to provide fundamental resources that our neighbors need to thrive without the dedication of their volunteers. We are uplifting volunteer voices during Volunteer Appreciation Month in an effort to tell the stories of community members who gift their time to help support Pennsylvanians facing hunger.

Deji, Central Pennsylvania Food Bank

“It starts with you,” says Deji, a volunteer at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.

“If you say, ‘I want to see change in the world,’ then it starts with yourself. […] Challenge yourself into finding what it is you can do to make a change and help, because […] you may not need it, your family may not need it, but somebody’s in need.” In Pennsylvania, 1 in 11 people and 1 in 8 children face hunger; that’s over 1.2 million people in the Commonwealth who may not know where their next meal will come from. During National Volunteer Week, we are highlighting our volunteers who donate their time to help uplift their communities and their neighbors facing hunger.

“Wake up every day and find a way to look yourself in the mirror and say ‘How can I make a difference today?'”

Patti, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

Patti has a special passion for volunteering with the Cambria Backpack program after working as a teacher in the area for 35 years.

“I could see just from teaching that long, what a need our community had.”

She says teachers constantly worry about kids getting enough food, and after years in the classroom, she knew the signs of food insecurity all too well.

“With this [the backpack program], it’s just so much better. And the kids don’t have a stigma attached to it because they quietly go up and get their bag and just put it in their backpack. Wonderful. A wonderful thing.”

The Cambria Backpack program is a partner of Greater Pittsburgh Community Food bank and works with the Food Bank to provide healthy items to kids on the weekend including produce. The program has been so successful, it launched an additional location to serve an additional 200 students each week. The expansion has notably reached several rural school districts in the north, presenting a unique challenge of transportation barriers for school partners in those areas.

Sandy, Helping Harvest Fresh Food Bank

A longtime volunteer at Helping Harvest Fresh Food Bank, Sandy Brown recently celebrated completing 5,000 volunteer hours at the food bank. That’s equivalent to if Sandy volunteered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 7 consecutive months.

“Volunteering at Helping Harvest provides me the opportunity to enrich the lives of others,” says Sandy.

“Knowing that I am contributing to making sure someone has food and that I can put a smile on someone’s face means more to me than I can put into words. The staff and volunteers at Helping Harvest are truly inspiring, and I couldn’t think of better people to fulfill the mission of the food bank than all of them.”

Lacey, Central Pennsylvania Food Bank

Lacey Thomas is a volunteer at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank who describes volunteering as “priceless.”

“You can’t really put a dollar [amount] on it. It’s not something you can buy. […] You kind of realize that it’s bigger than you. When you’re giving back, you feel like a part of a bigger purpose.” In 2023, over 35,000 Pennsylvanians gifted their time to Feeding Pennsylvania member food banks. When you volunteer at one of our member food banks, you join a community who is dedicated to helping to provide food and grocery items to their neighbors so they can thrive.

“It’s a priority, to make a change and make a difference,” continues Lacey. “It’s more meaningful for us and our family to know that we’re investing our time in something that is bigger than us and beyond us and that has meaning to our community.”

Debe, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

Debe has lived in Armstrong County her entire life. A single mother to five children, Debe worked three jobs at a time to support her kids. Money was so tight- childcare wasn’t an option. Debe often brought her kids to work with her.

“It was an ongoing struggle.” 

One day, Debe was working at a hoagie shop in downtown Kittanning when she saw a flood of foot traffic at a building across the street. She walked over on her break and stumbled upon Grace Presbyterian Food Pantry, a partner of Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

“The next time I came over on my break from work and I just cried the whole way through the line,” said Debe. “I thought-this is like somebody handing me a big grocery bag of food. And it was life-changing to me.” 

The experience was so powerful that Debe has not only continued to receive food assistance, but she is also one of the pantry’s regular volunteers.  She says those who donate to the Food Bank don’t always realize how much it truly means to people who receive food assistance.  “I truly appreciate it, because the number one thing is, when you do what you do, we know we’re not forgotten. You think about us, and you care about us and what happens to us. I can’t thank you enough for that.” 

Are you interested in joining thousands of people across Pennsylvania who volunteer at Feeding Pennsylvania member food banks? Head over to our volunteer webpage to find your local Feeding Pennsylvania member food bank and click on the provided volunteer webpage link.