If you’ve volunteered at the Food Bank of South Jersey (FBSJ) in the past few years, there’s a ninety nine percent chance that you’ve met either Gerald or Tyree. This dynamic duo runs the Volunteer Services for FBSJ, keeping track of nearly 100 daily volunteers who play an integral role in preparing and packing anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 meals each day during the Summer Meals season. This time of year is by far the busiest for these two guys, who are tasked with recruiting and managing the thousands of volunteers our organization relies on to ensure we’re delivering food to children who need our help, but I was able to convince Tyree and Gerald to spare a few minutes to talk with me about their work and why they love what they do.
Thanks for sitting down with me, guys! I know you’re particularly busy right now given the Summer Meals Program is in full swing, but since you’re the undeniable “faces” of the Food Bank for so many, we’re all curious to know more about you…
G: Well I’m originally from Oklahoma and caught the bug to live in the Northeast, where I’ve been living for most of my life now. I went to school in Boston, then made my way to New Hampshire, Vermont…and then after spending a few years in Texas and back home, I eventually made my way back to New Jersey in 2002, and I’ve been here ever since.
T: And I’ve been living in Camden my whole life – born and raised here.
How long have you both been working at FBSJ?
T: I started working here in 2013 in the distribution services department.
G: And I’ve been working here for the past two years, hired as a Volunteer Services Manager.
T: When Gerald started working here, I worked every position in the warehouse including the marketplace (where agencies pick up food to distribute in their pantries), so I was helping him quite a bit when volunteers came in to sort food donations. So once a position became available on his team I moved over and I’ve been doing this ever since.
So take me through a typical day for your team.
G: It starts with recruitment and reaching out to groups and individuals letting them know that we have opportunities available. Once they come in, we get them set up, signed up and show them a quick video to help them understand what they’re doing. Tyree is my backup once they get in here and we get them all set up.
T: The volunteers truly make the world go ‘round here, so it’s important to get them set up correctly and manage any overflow so that they can help where we need them. While they’re here we try to make sure they’re as comfortable as possible since they’re helping us with so much.
G: Yes, during Summer Meals we get them set up in the kitchen or the warehouse depending on where the need is so that they can help that team with the packing and prepping. If there’s any overflow then we’ll get them set up helping somewhere else.
I know that Summer Meals is one of the largest programs where we utilize the help of volunteers. What other programs are they helping us with?
T: There are multiple ways for people to get involved that isn’t Summer Meals.
G: Every area where there’s a program, we have volunteers out there in some capacity. There’s programs like Kidz Pack, Twilight Harvest, and Therapeutic Food Boxes (programs designed for the specific needs of certain demographics like kids, seniors, and those just coming out of the hospital) and special events like our Food Bank Hunger Games event or doing Just Peachy demonstrations on weekends throughout the area.
T: We also need volunteers for our Hope Mobile program where volunteers can help distribute food to those in need, which is very rewarding, or helping our HLI team with cooking and nutrition demonstrations. Sorting food donations is a big area of need, too.
Sounds like there’s a need for volunteers in almost every facet of the company!
T: Yes, there are multiple ways for people to get involved that isn’t Summer Meals!
What’s the most rewarding aspect of working with volunteers?
T: At the end of every day when they go to turn in their badges, I’ll go thank them for their help and they always say “no thank you.” That always puts a smile on my face and makes me happy to be a part of the food bank. You know, everyone’s experienced hunger before and that’s not a good feeling. In fact, I have a daughter who goes to a program that receives our meals, so as a father, it’s important to me that she gets the food she needs. So knowing what our mission is and what we’re doing to help people, that makes me happy to come in to work and do what I do every day.
G: I’ve known exactly what it’s like to not have food because I grew up in a very rural area and my grandma received food from our tribe’s food program (My family is a part of the Comanche tribe and has been living in that area for centuries). I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were living well below the poverty line, but that was a part of my daily life. As I got older and had a career and everything, I suddenly found myself homeless after a series of events. With the help of my tribe’s food program, I was able to get out of that situation. So since then, I’ve always wanted to find an organization that could utilize my skills, since I’ve always worked with volunteers, and aligned with my mission to help feed people. So I’m happy to be here doing just that.
Wow, so this mission really is important to both of you. And I’m sure it helps that you guys seem to have such a great relationship.
G: Tyree is my right-hand man, if I didn’t have him I wouldn’t have the confidence to go out to lunch!
T: And I’m happy to work with Gerald. He’s a mentor to me and Gerald is the man!
Interested in meeting Tyree and Gerald for yourself? Volunteer! FBSJ truly could not function without the generous support of our volunteers. To learn more about how you can get involved, visit the link here: foodbanksj.org/donate-time/