Back in 2010, Berta Nicol-Blades and her friend Jan Kikuchi made their first visit to the Hunger Solution Center. For a Day of Giving event, the two pals had chosen Food Lifeline. For four hours they sorted and repacked food that would make its way to food banks across western Washington. Kikuchi, or “Kooch”, as her friends liked to call her, was so excited that she told Berta “We’re going to do this every week!”.
While the two friends had a plan, it wasn’t to be. Not long after their visit, Kooch passed away.
Berta was heartbroken by the loss of her longtime friend but decided to follow their plan. Even if she was alone.
“I thought to myself”, says Berta, “What better way to pay tribute to Kooch than to come here and work.”
A tribute to a friend can be a simple gesture, a quiet moment, or a heartfelt prayer. But for Berta, this tribute has become a way of life.
For the past ten years, Berta has become the most recognized volunteer at Food Lifeline. Two days a week she staffs Food Lifeline’s “Shop The Dock” cooler, a standalone cooler of highly desired perishable food that food banks can take to augment the regular food orders they make online.
Her commitment to helping those who are experiencing hunger is not only a tribute to her friend, it’s also a value she holds dear.
“One of my goals in life has always been to make a difference in the world, and this is one way I can do that.”
Every Monday and Tuesday, Berta arrives at the Hunger Solution Center with her trademark apron, a big smile, and goes to work moving the day’s food on a pallet jack painted pink. A gift for Berta from a grateful Food Lifeline team.
“I have no idea why it’s pink, but I know it’s mine”, she says with a laugh.
Working in the Shop The Dock cooler is a special experience for Berta. Providing food banks with a welcoming smile and unexpected food is deeply satisfying.
“They get to take back something unexpected. Maybe it’s mangoes or fresh herbs. I can tell you that we get a lot of grateful food banks.”
And the sheer volume of food that the team distributes, amazes her.
“I’m astounded at how much food we send out the door. One month we did 30,000 pounds, the next month it’s 50,000, then 90,000 – it just keeps going up.”
While Berta cherishes the visits, it’s where the food is going that fills her heart. Knowing that this food will be on the table of someone in the community, is the greatest reward.
“Seeing people suffer kills me”, she says quietly. “It’s nice to know that we can alleviate at least some of the suffering.”
There are days when showing up to volunteer is hard for Berta. A busy week, family commitments, or simply life, can sometimes make the drive to the Hunger Solution Center grueling. But when she arrives, she remembers what it means to be there, and how it feels to be of service. She dons her apron, grabs her pink pallet jack, and gets to work helping feed people she’ll never meet.
Kooch would be proud.