Volunteer Stories

Each volunteer has a story and we want to share it with you. We want our community to know why our volunteers are important, why they give their time and energy, and why working to relieve hunger is meaningful to them. We hope their story will help inspire you to find your own passion and get involved in your community!

Meet Justin Lytle!

Justin Lytle has a volunteer’s heart. He also has one that dignifies his family roots, a fact that drew him to start volunteering at Emergency Food Network in the first place.

“I was looking for food pantries in our area because I wanted to donate in honor of my late grandparents; they were great people, and I remember them during each repack,” Lytle said.

He now volunteers a few hours every other week or so, helping out with our Repack Project as well as packing Break Bags that provide food assistance to students and their families during holiday breaks in 60 schools around Pierce County. He found that the more he volunteered, the more he saw the need around him.

“I see a lot of homelessness in Pierce County, but I didn’t know how to help them,” he said. “Giving my time and money to EFN is something that I can do to feed people. It’s the right thing to do.”

He has also found a few side benefits of volunteering at EFN. He gets some exercise, feels satisfied with a job well done, and meets interesting people along the way.

“I get kind of worn out during each repack because the pace can be pretty fast,” he said. “It’s at that moment that I’m tired that I feel joy because I think of all the people that will have something to eat because I sacrificed some time and energy for them. I also really like meeting people at the repack, too.”

Meet Arnie Chavez!

Arnie Chavez first got involved at EFN when he volunteered in the warehouse with his Boeing coworkers. He just kept coming back, either at a repacking session or more recently on the Nourish/EFN Mobile Food Bank.

“I really like the fact that I can be a part of something worthwhile and rewarding,” he said. “That means a lot to me.”

Perhaps equally important as worthwhile work, Arnie says that volunteering at EFN is also fun.

Never went to the Repack Project or the Mobile Food Bank where I didn’t have a good time,” he added. “I like the high spirits, interesting people, and interacting with all the folks who volunteer and use the program.”

Meet Katt McKnight!

There are so many ways to volunteer at EFN, and Katt McKnight has done them all! She has been to our Lakewood Distribution Center to pack Break Bags and pack bulk foods at the Repack Project. She has dug in the dirt at our Mother Earth Farm and helped check out guests at Empty Bowls.  Katt’s friendly and upbeat attitude, desire to lend a hand in whatever way she can, and commitment to help our neighbors in need makes her an invaluable volunteer and true friend of EFN. Thank you, Katt for all your hard work over the past three years!

Why have you chosen EFN as a place you want to volunteer? I keep coming back to EFN because it provides a vital resource to the community at a time when the future is very uncertain for a great many people. My family went through some pretty hard times when I was a child and an organization like EFN could really have helped us back then. I love knowing that all the different activities I do with EFN play a small part in helping kids and families not feel the pain of going hungry, and who knows if I might not need that help myself again someday. That feeling of satisfaction from knowing that I’m helping others is why I keep coming back to help out whenever I can.

What made you initially sign up to volunteer with EFN? A friend asked me to join her at the Repack Project a couple years ago. I think it was her first time volunteering there too. It so happened that I was looking for something to do volunteer-wise at the time, and it seemed like something different to try out. It turned out to be fun with a lot of great, friendly volunteers and EFN employees, so I’ve tried to a do at least a few events a year since.

What has been your most memorable volunteer experience at EFN? My most memorable experience was the Unified Grocers bagging event [Break Bags]. Everyone had so much fun! Hunting down food and household items that EFN could distribute to families in need was a bit like a treasure hunt! And then there was the cardboard display bowling action we got going during a break…

Meet Jeff Kallestad!

Although Jeff is a relatively new volunteer at EFN he has quickly become a regular! Jeff has been involved with the Repack Project, Sort, Pack, Stack, various events, and most recently has been volunteering weekly at EFN’s Mother Earth Farm. Generous and hardworking volunteers like Jeff make our work possible. Thanks for continuing to share your time with EFN to feed Pierce County!

What does volunteering at EFN mean to you?
EFN is a critical organization for linking charitable community outreach efforts with excess food resources. I am happy to contribute to this effort. In this time when goods and services that compromise out social safety net appears threatened by lack of federal support, it is important for community members to step up and ensure that everyone is taken care of.

How has your knowledge of the emergency food system and local hunger issues changed since volunteering with EFN?
I am not that knowledgeable (on a personal level) about the level of hunger in Pierce County, other than what I read in the newspapers, but I have become much more knowledgeable about the emergency food system and the food resources that are available for addressing the hunger problem. Guided tours at the Lakewood [EFN] Distribution Center were an important way for me to acquire that knowledge.

What is the volunteer experience like at EFN’s Mother Earth Farm?
I volunteer every Friday morning at Mother Earth Farm, mostly because it is close to where I live (I can bicycle there), but also because it is both rewarding and therapeutic to work with the soil to produce fresh food for food banks. Occasionally I help out with the Repack Project, which I find fun working cooperatively with others in assembly-line fashion. The team work spirit seems to magically develop and it is fun to see the progress become more and more efficient over the period of a couple of hours.

Why have you chosen EFN as a place you want to volunteer?
This might sound selfish: not everyone is a ‘people person.’ Some outreach tasks require interacting with people who are suffering. I am super glad that there are such people who are gifted and big-hearted in being able to connect with people in this way. I am not a ‘people person.’ I am fairly shy and solitary, but I still want to help out. EFN provided a great opportunity for folks like me to contribute to an important cause in a meaningful way. I like being the invisible but necessary ‘behind the scenes guy.’

How has EFN’s mission “…so that no person goes hungry” directly affected you?
As someone who has become chronically unemployed because of my age, I am glad to help those less fortunate while I can, but I am also cognizant that I too may need help in this way in the future. I hope there will be others who can ‘pay it forward’, and that this kind of commitment to the community will continue and grow.

Meet Danna Green!

Danna Green is a weekly volunteer on the Nourish/EFN Mobile Food Bank at Giaudrone Middle School. She has been volunteering with EFN since 2013 and has volunteered over 370 hours since then! Danna was a part of the original Mobile Volunteer Committee to help recruit volunteers and maintain consistency between the ten different sites. She has mobilized her church and created a reliable volunteer base at the Giaudrone Middle School site.

Learn why Danna loves to volunteer at EFN by reading our Q&A here:

What does volunteering at EFN mean to you?
Everything. I have been volunteering most of my life at one thing or another. If I could I would do this every day of my life. It gives me great joy.

How did you come to volunteer at EFN?
I lost my job after 15 years and found myself having to go to a food bank for the first time since my kids were little. I went for two weeks then spoke to the Pastor and started volunteering twice a month. The church decided to no longer do the food bank and FISH contacted me to work on the new Nourish/EFN Mobile Food Bank at Giaudrone Middle School.

What has been your most memorable volunteer experience at EFN?
Every Monday is special to me. I have experienced a lot of food banks where the people were mean, rude and it was humiliating. I vowed that I would start or work for a food bank who were loving and kind. When I am gone at the food bank everyone mentions how they miss me. They smile and have been told that I am loving and kind to everyone.

Why do you continue to volunteer at EFN?
Because I do not believe that anyone should go hungry and I like the fact that we grow our own food. I also volunteer for Pierce County Homeless Connect and EFN has provided donations for these events too.

Meet Sharron Kanter!

Sharron Kanter has volunteered her time at our Lakewood office since August 2016. She has given us more than 354 hours, and still counting! That amount of time is worth $8,546, but it is priceless to us. She volunteers for a few hours almost every day to assist with essential day-to-day data entry and to complete various projects for our Development Team. If you have volunteered at EFN recently, it is likely that Sharron was the one entering your hours and repack pounds into our database! She works diligently to ensure that our database is always kept up to date! Besides Sharron’s administrative skills, she is also a delight to work with and brings energy to the office each day. We appreciate her choosing EFN as the place to spend her time!

Here is what Sharron had to say:

What made you initially sign-up to volunteer?
I had decided after volunteering for 12 years as a crime analyst with the Police Department that it was time to retire, again. One month at home was enough. I happened to see EFN’s Executive Director, Helen at the Dog-A-Thon at Ft. Steilacoom Park and asked if she knew of anyone who needed a volunteer number cruncher. She raised her hand and said, “Yes, me!”

What does volunteering at EFN mean to you?
I learned the value of volunteering from my parents when I was a young child. I learned that volunteering isn’t about being thanked or appreciated, but about the good feeling I get when I help others to accomplish their mission. Volunteering at EFN, an organization I had previously supported with donations, was a totally new experience for me as a volunteer. Everyone in this organization is friendly, helpful and appreciative. I love to be here and to do my part to make their jobs easier.

What do you like about volunteering at EFN?
I have a reason to get up in the morning, I have wonderful people to work with, I have challenges to keep my brain active, and I am doing my part to help my community.

Thank you, Sharron. For being a part of the EFN team!

Meet Bill Dickens!

Bill Dickens has been volunteering with Emergency Food Network since 2011! He is a regular volunteer at our Empty Bowls event and has participated in our Repack Projects with his coworkers from Tacoma Public Utilities. When asked about his volunteer experience at EFN, this is what Bill had to say:

What made you initially sign-up to volunteer?
I heard about EFN thru email communications at my office. I wanted to sign up to assist in the Fight against Hunger in Pierce County.  I believe access to food promotes nutrition, education and economic security.

What has been your most memorable volunteer experience at EFN?
My most memorable experience was Repacking a lot of plums! I never saw so many plums in my life!

What do you like about volunteering at EFN?
I enjoy meeting fellow volunteers and people in the community. The interactions allow me to expand my professional network.

Why have you chosen EFN as a place you want to volunteer?
Food is a basic requirement for sustainable life.  EFN provides me with an opportunity to do my part.

Meet Tamera Fletcher!

Tamera Fletcher is a long time Repack Project volunteer and is known for her ability to keep energies up among her fellow volunteers. She has been volunteering as a Tacoma Public Utilities employee, and on her own time at EFN since 2014, and has volunteered more than 70 hours since then!

Tamera continuously recruits her friends and family to volunteer alongside her. What makes her an even more valuable volunteer is that she is always filling empty spots on the Repack Project with short notice which takes a lot of pressure off of EFN staff. She has also been a huge help in our Letter Carriers Food Drive and Break Bags volunteer days. Her continued dedication to EFN and willingness to help out when needed is truly amazing!

Here is what Tamera had to say:

What made you initially sign up to volunteer?
Monthly Repacks were added to TPU’s volunteer opportunity schedule a few years ago. It seemed like a good way to help the community while in the company of people I knew. I also liked the idea of it requiring effort and more directly helping people in need – compared to gift wrapping booths or walkathons.

What has been your most memorable volunteer experience at EFN?
My favorite time volunteering was a couple years ago when there was available space at a Repack Project on Veterans Day. Two friends and I joined staff from JBLM and we all worked together like an amazing, well-oiled machine to repack 8,250 pounds of oats. All of us, even the soldiers, sang along to Taylor Swift or whoever was on the radio, while getting covered in oat dust so we smelled like delicious cookies at the end! It was super meaningful to experience that kind of camaraderie on a day of service, plus a national holiday.

Why have you chosen EFN as a place you want to volunteer?
I can see how my participation in the Repack Project is important and where it fits in the process of EFN receiving food and then being able to distribute it to people in need. Plus, I really enjoy introducing friends to volunteer opportunities like the Repack Project and Break Bags. I think the total is 25 people so far, and many of them have become repeat participants — some of whom are able to jump-in on short notice to fill gaps. I appreciate their help, and everything EFN does (and lets us do) for the community!

Meet Pam Ford!

Pam Ford has been a loyal Repack Project volunteer since 2014. Volunteering at EFN has been a family effort for the Fords. They have three generations of EFN volunteers including Pam, her mother, and her daughters. We have had the opportunity to see her daughters transition from high school to college and continue to make time to volunteer with us!

Here’s Pam’s story:

How did you hear about Emergency Food Network?
I heard about EFN through my daughters; they had several volunteer opportunities introduced to them through high school and with their sport teams. As a family, we became involved with EFN through the Repack Project. My daughter was also a regular volunteer on the Mobile Food Bank.

Why have you chosen EFN as a place you want to volunteer?
There are so many opportunities available through EFN, several days of the week and times of the day, it is easy to get in a few hours here and there. With twins in college, there is not a lot of extra money to make cash donations, but I can certainly give of my time to help my community.

  • Great staff—both behind the scenes with scheduling your volunteer time and at the actual events.
  • Engaged volunteers—there are always friendly volunteers to work with, whether you get added to a specific community group or work with a group of individual volunteers.
  • Local connection—you can actually see the good the EFN does throughout the community. At each Repack session, it is interesting to hear where the food products came from–and to know it will continue onto the mobile food trucks for distribution right in our neighborhoods.

How has your knowledge of the emergency food system and local hunger issues changed since volunteering with EFN?
I always suspected that “food drives” (run by schools, etc.) were not the best use of resources but were still an awesome way to get kids involved at a young age in understanding their community needs. It has been interesting to learn how the buying power of EFN is so much greater than donating that can of beans. (EFN: For every $1 donated, we distribute $12 worth of food!).