Volunteers - The Key to Sustainable Programs

By: NobleHour Special Contributor Meagan Pierluissi

 

Out in Eagan, Minn., a suburb of the Twin Cities, resides a free meal program serving those in need in an atmosphere of hospitality. It's just one of 28 dining sites (36 in the summer, supporting out-of-school children) run by Loaves and Fishes, a non profit providing nutritious meals to people who are hungry across the state. 

 

Raised garden beds, constructed by area Eagle Scouts, are also strategically placed outside this Eagan dining site located at Easter Lutheran Church by the Lake. These beds are part of Loaves and Fishes’ Farm for All Program, feeding guests food harvested directly from their farms and gardens, supported by a national volunteer grant by NobleCause. The Farm for All Program in Eagan, like the other dining sites, welcomes families, senior citizens, and anyone who is hungry to a meal prepared and served by volunteers. 

 

Eagan, a typical suburb of the Twin Cities with destination shopping centers, waterparks, and recreational activities, may not be the first place you would look to find poverty, but if you ask one of the many staff members or volunteers for Loaves and Fishes, you begin to understand the look of suburban poverty. 

 

“We have people who come to dine with us who are living in their vehicles,” says Kimberly Greene-DeLanghe, Loaves and Fishes Farm for All farm manager and site coordinator at Easter Lutheran by the Lake. “Out here, it’s very different than our other sites, which can be more urban or just a different setting. Eagan sees many kids who are part of a tutorial program, as well as individuals from a local senior housing facility.”  

Volunteers are key to the sustainability of our farming efforts.
— Kimberly Green-DeLanghe, Loaves and Fishes Farm for All farm manager and site coordinator at Easter Lutheran by the Lake

“We started these farms in 2015 to bring the freshest food to our guests,” Kimberly says. “The NobleCause grant last year helped us keep farm sites operating to their fullest potential and, equally if not more importantly, expanded our volunteer outreach. Volunteers are key to the sustainability of our farming efforts.”

 

Loaves and Fishes was awarded $50,000 from a grant competition through NobleCause, an organization that aims to foster volunteerism throughout the nation. This funding allows the organization to find passionate volunteers to take on many of the roles at the dining sites and farms, allowing staff to continue working on other aspects of their mission and ultimately getting more Minnesotans fed and educated about healthy eating.

 

Serving Minnesota residents healthy meals brings in many volunteers. Two of the four Farm for All farm sites are co-located with dining sites, giving volunteers the opportunity to be outside, planting and harvesting the same food that they then cook and serve to those in need just feet from the farm or garden. 

 

Jim Gorczycki and Jan Fox are two volunteers working at the Eagan dining site and farm. They saw an opportunity to give back to their church community and neighborhood while finding fulfillment in retirement. Jim says that although his wife, Deb, is the true gardener of the pair, he enjoys getting his hands dirty just the same about 6-10 hours a week. “I retired about two years ago and was looking for somewhere to help out. I saw the opportunity to help with Loaves and Fishes on the church’s website. I’m sort of a shy guy, so I was apprehensive at first but then just loved it right away.”

For Jan, the experience takes her back to her childhood of growing up on a farm. “I help preserve the herbs we grow and make things like pesto to use during the off-growing season. It’s fun to see what all we’re able to do out here with herbs, and I learn a lot. I actually am getting more vegetables into my diet because of what I learn here. I joined the [Easter Lutheran] church about two years ago and saw in the bulletin that [Loaves and Fishes] needed help with the garden. I thought this is perfect; where is it? It takes me outside and takes me to my youth.”

We’re all here for one purpose, to help each other.
— Jim Gorczycki, Loaves and Fishes Volunteer

Jan and Jim reflect often on the patrons they see coming through the doors each week in need of a meal. “I see families come through, single people, people who look homeless and some who don’t,” Jan says. “We’re now getting more people than when I first started volunteering - about 60 people come to dine per day. You never know who is in need of food. But there’s an obvious need for what Loaves and Fishes is doing here.”

 

“We’re all on the same playing field and nobody is above the other,” Jim says of what makes him proud to volunteer his time here. “Whether you’re serving, cleaning up, or eating, we’re all in this together. Meeting people eye-to-eye and knowing that we’re here on Earth to help each other is why I do it.” 

 

Recruiting dedicated volunteers like Jim and Jan is a result of using different platforms to first recruit and then maintain engagement with potential volunteers, says Kimberly. “NobleCause funds gave us the ability to acquire the needed infrastructure and volunteer recruitment tools to help grow our farms to maximum capacity.” 

 

Kimberly hopes to keep growing this momentum. “While we have acquired regular volunteers for three out of our four farms/gardens, we are still in need of more regular, reoccurring individuals at our Coon Rapids site, our largest farm site. We are in need of up to 50 regular reoccurring individuals to help maintain this site on an on-going basis. The grant allows us to keep connecting with volunteers and building those individual and corporate relationships.”

 

“I get to see things growing and bring it all to the table, knowing this came from the garden that we help with,” says Jim, explaining why the Loaves and Fishes mission inspires him. “We’re all here for one purpose, to help each other. Just come on out and get your hands dirty—you won’t regret it.”

 

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The NobleCause grants, organized by NobleHour.com, were made possible by an anonymous donor within the GiveWell Community Foundation, which serves Polk County, FL. The NobleCause grant competition, launched in 2015, invited high schools, school districts, colleges and universities, and nonprofits to identify and address a local challenge and to recruit and enrich the social responsibility of volunteers. 100 organizations were awarded $6,500 grants, while seven exemplary organizations were recognized at the $50,000 level. NobleHour.com is dedicated to using NobleCause to increase volunteerism that raises awareness at the local level and develops community members who can take action.

 

Since 2007, NobleHour has proven to be the volunteer management solution for organizations across the nation. With its robust online platform, NobleHour enhances community engagement with a variety of innovative and transformative tools for finding, tracking, and measuring volunteer, service‐learning, and community service initiatives. With offices in Lakeland, FL, and Portland, OR, the NobleHour team is dedicated to empowering good in communities across the country.

 

Loaves and Fishes started 35 years ago with one dining site in St. Paul and one in Minneapolis. Two years ago, Loaves and Fishes started their farming program, Farm for All, which allows the dining sites to address hunger and nutrition concerns. Loaves and Fishes provides free meals across the Twin Cities metro area and beyond. They are present in seven counties serving urban, rural, and suburban Minnesotans. Farm for All farms and gardens are located in Coon Rapids, Richfield, Eagan, and St. Paul. 

 

Meagan Pierluissi is a freelance writer, blogger, and public relations strategist from Atlanta, GA, with an overwhelming wish to connect people through storytelling. True to her southern roots, Meagan enjoys good food, slow conversations, and getting out into nature with her husband and  two young daughters.