It’s been a quiet couple of weeks in the Community Hunger Solutions warehouse.
Although we are still receiving dairy from Organic Valley regularly, our produce supply starts to slow down at the tail end of winter. We are getting donations of foods that store longer (roots and tubers) so there isn’t a strong need to get food to our pantries as quickly. Our staff of two is able to take a much needed break, or at least slow down a little bit, as winter encourages us to reflect on the past year and set new goals for the upcoming year. The special blankets used to keep dairy and produce cool during delivery, the boxes organized by size, the scales for recording summer’s bounty, the pallet jacks that move around literal tons of produce - all rest motionless as well. It's a fine time to reflect on the life and movement of this space, and the people who contribute to it.
The work that we do here at CHS would just not be possible without the time given by our volunteers.
Their jobs include but are not limited to: sorting winter squash, bagging potatoes, making deliveries, weighing donations, cutting box supports, sweeping, harvesting beans from the Viroqua Growing Forward Together Garden, and compiling orders for delivery. Occasionally volunteers with help with other tasks as needed, like riding along for a farm pickup. Or they notice other ways their skills can help improve the environment, such as sanding tables or putting a new wheel on the dolly.
Last month during one of our volunteer shifts, we spoke with Kurt, Janelle, and Kathy, three of our afternoon volunteers, and asked them a few questions about what it’s like to work with CHS.
A typical volunteer shift in the warehouse is two hours. During our interview, volunteers are sorting through sweet potatoes, unloading boxes of recently donated foods, and chatting about books that they have read.
Our volunteers give their time for a variety of reasons. One volunteer, who has been supporting CHS since 2012, became acquainted with us while wholesaling winter squash for Organic Valley. CHS came out to her farm to glean the remaining squash and she was impressed with the model of saving food from the landfills, which inspired her to start volunteering the following year.
An underlying thread is a belief in the importance of the work done by Community Hunger Solutions.
Many volunteers come with the knowledge that our food systems can be very wasteful, and appreciate the role CHS plays in getting quality food out to people in their community who can benefit from it. Some value the opportunity to be a part of the food industry, without committing as much time as one would if they were a farmer. And largely, folks acknowledge the need to have some sort of positive impact in the community. Hearing the ever evolving news cycle repeat messages of despair can be a lot to handle, and having a consistent role in making a difference can be healing in and of itself.
Their favorite jobs include quality control of donated dairy, filling orders, and making little improvements to the warehouse space. Being a part of an organization that reduces food waste is important, but other benefits include the camaraderie of working with the same group of people. Books suggestions and recipes are shared, and it's fun to learn about and try new varieties of vegetables. Volunteers often get to take vegetables home themselves, so they get to try many of the foods they are boxing up and sending out to pantries.
The idea of getting surplus high quality local foods out to food pantries and apartments sounds simple enough, but the reality of accomplishing all that CHS does involves a lot of support along the way from our volunteers.
Interested in volunteering?
We can always use more support! And there are lots of ways to share your skills. In addition to warehouse support, we also need help with documenting the work of CHS through photography, recipe creation (to give to our pantries), tending to the Viroqua Growing Forward Together Garden, gleaning from farms, making deliveries, and other volunteer tasks that pop up over time. The best way to learn more is to get on our volunteer email list. Follow the link below to sign-up, and please, help spread the word! When we work together, we can accomplish so much more.