For Joe Burns, sitting around doing nothing is not on his bucket list.
But volunteering – in a big way – is.
Five days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., you’ll find Joe in the Hunger Solution Center, assigned to the Fresh Rescue Department, where he sorts food.
Joe grew up in Minnesota. After years of working up the sales chain – first inside, then outside, then district, then regional manager – Joe became general manager of a materials-handling company.
It was through his wife Cindy that his life changed markedly.
“I had my day in the sun 20 years ago,” Joe said. His wife was in finance and accounting. Her career required a lot of relocating — from Minnesota to Wisconsin, to Georgia, to Virginia, to Pennsylvania, back to Minnesota, then on to Florida and, finally, Washington. At many of the stops, Joe would scout around for work for himself. But when he wasn’t working, and sometimes even if he was, volunteering became a mission.
He got his feet wet volunteering at the Lord’s Pantry in Downingtown, Pa. But it was with ICA Food Shelf “where I kind of got the bug.” ICA is in Minnetonka, Minn., 13 miles west of Minneapolis. The agency distributes food and provides other services for those needing assistance.
So when the couple packed up and transferred to Ft. Myers, Fla., it was natural for Joe to continue volunteering, this time at the Harry Chapin (yes, that Harry Chapin) Food Bank. He had stints both as a paid worker and as a volunteer.
That was when Food Lifeline got lucky. Cindy found another great opportunity – with Amazon in Seattle. When the CEO who ran the Harry Chapin facility learned Joe was headed to Washington, he had a suggestion.
“He knew Linda, so he told me when I moved up here I should get in touch with her,” Joe said. As Food Lifeline’s president, Linda Nageotte was in a good position to find a spot for Joe.
Joe takes direction from long-time volunteer coordinator Hank Nguyen.
“Hank’s a great guy, real receptive to listening to volunteers,” Joe said. So when Joe or others have thoughts about tweaking procedures, he said Hank is good about seeing how they can be adapted.
Before Joe reached Seattle, he was experienced in a number of projects. For example, he helped load trucks with food donated through the Postal Service’s Stamp Out Hunger food drive. In Florida, he participated in a program known as Stuff the Bus. In many locations, Stuff the Bus encourages donors to provide school supplies. But in some areas – Ft. Myers was one – citizens stuffed buses with food during periods when donations receded. Joe was there to help unload them.
Outside of his Hunger Solution Center volunteering activities, he has the opportunity to travel. He is able to accompany his wife on business trips. The two of them also have been able to vacation in Hawaii and to such countries as Mexico, South Korea and Thailand. Joe also is a Harley-Davidson aficionado. He and Cindy rode the roads throughout the Midwest and the East Coast. That included a week in the Black Hills of North Dakota. Limited storage facilities forced him to abandon his motorcycle on the move west. But he hasn’t quite quit the memorabilia habit – Harley coffee mugs, pictures, mini-gas tanks and clothes – “Oh, I’ve got so many t-shirts.”
Joe started at Food Lifeline last April, the day after the nonprofit’s move to South Park.
Why volunteer? “It’s the feeling you’re helping people less fortunate than you,” Joe said. “It’s rewarding. I love it.”
And there’s the other thing: “I’d go crazy sitting at home. I’ve got to keep moving.”
Food Lifeline hopes Joe stays just where he is.
Join Joe in being a volunteer hunger hero! Sign up to feed your hungry neighbors.