by Kent Coffland, Feeding America Technical Project Manager
*January 19th is the National Day of Service. In honor of that day, we are profiling some dedicated volunteers who are passionate about serving people in need.
Hi. My name is Kent Coffland – I’m a technical project manager at Feeding America and I’m addicted to volunteering!
Most Saturday mornings you will find me somewhere in the Northern Illinois Food Bank warehouse sorting or packaging food for those in need. On my first day at Feeding America I came downtown for my new employee orientation, and within two hours I was whisked away to the Northern Illinois Food Bank in the suburbs. As a technical project manager, I needed to get up to speed on our infrastructure implementations at food banks as soon as possible. These onsite projects had us working late into the night, and it was during one of those nights that first week that I witnessed volunteers coming into the food bank to sort food. I saw a great deal of enthusiasm from the volunteers and decided that I would like to come back and volunteer one day after that project had completed. Oddly enough, I was unsure of how to even go about volunteering. One of my fellow employees at the time, Chuck Hauger, lived in St. Charles and told me that he volunteered with some family members a couple of times a month and invited me to join his group sometime. They call their group the Slacker Packers and I still volunteer with them the first and third Saturday of every month.
After about six months of volunteering twice a month with the Slacker Packers I felt like I wanted to do more. So I talked with some of the staff at the food bank and found out I could volunteer as an individual on any Saturday my normal group would not be there. It was then that I decided that trading a couple of extra hours of sleep for helping those in need was something I could do. Eventually it got to the point that if I had to miss a Saturday morning due to work travel or vacation – I felt guilty for not volunteering my time. I even volunteered at Philabundance, Feeding America San Diego, Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey while on various vacations. THAT is when I knew I was addicted to volunteering!
I think that volunteering makes me feel like I am helping make a difference in some small way. It makes me feel good to not only help those in need, but to also sort of “walk the talk” in terms of working at Feeding America. I love to see young kids volunteering with various groups or family members. I wish that I was exposed to volunteering at an early age like that. When given the opportunity I try and talk with the kids to thank them for helping and also remind them that the person sitting across from them in school could struggle with food insecurity and not know where their next meal is coming from. Every week I see new and old volunteers and people that volunteer even more than I do on a regular basis! Those folks are the unsung heroes of the food bank. I also stop to think about the impact that volunteering can have. But then I quickly realize that despite the thousands of hours of volunteering done at the food bank we are still not meeting the need to end hunger. In a nutshell I think that is why I come back every week and will try and do so until one day in our future when there are no longer hungry people in need.
Photo: Kent Coffland (far left) volunteering at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.