Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A BOUNTIFUL HARVEST; 17,000 Mystery Cans? Pounds of Potatoes? No Problem for Food Bank Volunteers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A BOUNTIFUL HARVEST; 17,000 Mystery Cans? Pounds of Potatoes? No Problem for Food Bank Volunteers

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey

Being a volunteer at Second Harvest North Florida food bank can be a daunting proposition.

One day, volunteers were greeted by massive sacks of potatoes that were so heavy they had to be moved around on a forklift. Their job was to divvy the thousands of potatoes into family-size bags.

Another day, they began what would be a three-week process of identifying, sorting and labeling 17,000 mystery canned goods.

"It was definitely tedious," volunteer Nicholas Jones said. "You've got to be efficient and speedy and accurate."

But he said the tedium is worthwhile, knowing those potatoes and canned goods will supply food pantries who serve the needy and homeless, as well as put food on the table of working class families in crisis.

"It feels good to help not just homeless people but people who are having trouble paying the rent," he said.

Second Harvest in Jacksonville distributes 20 millon pounds a year of food and groceries to 450 pantries and feeding sites in 17 counties. Funded by donations, grants, state and federal money and two major annual fundraisers, the food bank counts on 2,000 or so volunteers and their 18,000 volunteer hours a year to bolster its staff of 22 and to keep costs down and efficiency up, said Jessie Sanders, volunteer and food drive coordinator.

"Volunteers are absolutely vital," she said. "With their help, we are able to make sure all the food is safe and organized."

On any given day, 20 volunteers are hard at work. They take home the warm feeling of having given back to their community, Sanders said.

"You know that piece of food is going to somebody who will be very, very happy to have it. You know you're making a difference," she said.

Volunteer Darrell Wilson, who helped sort the potatoes, agreed. "Makes me feel good. I want to help people out, do some good." Sacks of potatoes? No problem, he said.

"We get bags bigger than this. We get truckloads of stuff in here," he said.

For many volunteers, Second Harvest becomes a passion. More than five years ago, Emma Holt decided to help out at the food bank a few hours a week after retiring from Prudential. …

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