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Volunteer Spotlight: Lisa Reitzes

By March 20, 2024April 3rd, 2024No Comments

For this month’s Volunteer Spotlight, we sat down with Lisa Reitzes, who started volunteering with Food Lifeline during the pandemic. She now works in Shop the Dock every Tuesday and Thursday, and has logged an incredible 1,522 volunteer hours since 2020. Lisa finds her volunteer work deeply meaningful, both for the impact she has on her community, as well as the relationships she’s formed with volunteers and employees in the Food Lifeline community. In the profile, she shares what it was like working alongside the National Guard during the pandemic, how she came to see the world through the lens of food and to better understand Food Lifeline’s role in alleviating hunger, and the relationships she’s formed along the way. We’re grateful for  Lisa’s commitment to our mission, and for the positive energy she brings to our team every week.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, you’ll find Volunteer Lisa Reitzes in the completely volunteer-run Shop the Dock at the Hunger Solution Center, working a pallet jack and distributing food. In the four years she’s been volunteering with Food Lifeline she’s also worked in the pandemic-era Emergency Community Food Distributions, and in the Production Corps, and has logged an incredible 1,522 volunteer hours.

In 2020 as the pandemic lockdowns started and the world turned upside down, her job suddenly ended and she answered a call for volunteers at Food Lifeline’s emergency distribution site at the huge warehouse in SODO.

“That brought home in a hurry the magnitude of the emergency, the urgency, and to really start thinking about food and the need for food, and food insecurity,” she says. “There is nothing more powerful than walking into that massive warehouse full of National Guard Troops and piles of boxes and totes of bulk food and teams of volunteers.”

When an outdoor food distribution site started near her neighborhood in Rainier Beach, she started volunteering there. “We started with 200 families,” she says.  “And by the time we were done 10 months later we were over 1500.”

“That was very powerful, to be conscious of the need in the neighborhood, and to be able to provide really good, solid, quality food to families – fresh as well as shelf stuff. That’s also where I began to appreciate the magnitude of this operation and Food Lifeline as an entity and the systems that it was increasingly having to take on.”

Working at the Rainier Beach location brought her into close contact with other Food Lifeline employees and volunteers. She learned about Food Lifeline’s advocacy efforts, and about how the operations of the organization worked.

“So all these things taught me about this place and this organization. I was sort of looking for a place to make a commitment in retirement and the work is physical and meaningful and I really like the systems-based operation here and understanding more about the chain of things, what comes in what goes out. I immediately felt the dedication of staff and volunteers—the supportiveness of staff towards volunteers. That message came through very clearly from the upper administration that we could not do what we are doing without the volunteers. And even as the pandemic began to let up and realizing how critical it was to get volumes of volunteers in on a daily basis.”

She says she can’t overstate how much it meant to find meaningful work at that moment. “This is now my work,” she states. “And it’s not paid but it is no less meaningful and important to me.”

Eventually, after the pandemic distributions shut down, Lisa was recruited to Production Corps as a regular. “The pitch was ‘We’ll get you a nametag and teach you how to use a pallet jack,’” says Lisa, laughing. “I said you’re on!”

“I value that sense of competency,” she says. “The volunteers are afforded a lot of responsibility and entrusted. Because there’s a whole lot of – the volume and weight of stuff, and the need for safety, and the need for consciousness in the workplace is really high. I appreciate that sense of being entrusted with responsibility. And I do like the pallet jack!”

Lisa Reitzes volunteering at the Rainier Beach outdoor distribution in April 2021. She says the photo “reminds me of the joy I felt being a part of that monumental effort to serve the community where I live.”

In July 2021, she was recruited for Shop the Dock. Learning the ropes of running Shop the Dock from longtime Food Lifeline Volunteer Berta is one of Lisa’s favorite memories. She felt like she was part of Berta’s legacy team and when Berta retired, she felt like she was helping to take that important and unique program forward.

“There are not a lot of types of places that do this type of operation out of a huge distribution site,” she says. “It’s special.”

Lisa loves the many dedicated people she gets to work with in Shop the Dock—the other Shop the Dock Volunteers as well as the employees and volunteers from other agencies that come to pick up food.

“What I really value about Shop the Dock is the ability to connect with the agencies directly. Phenomenally dedicated volunteers, and hearing about their agencies…from small feeding programs to the huge university district food bank and understanding how Food Lifeline is supporting as best they can. So that… makes the work feel incredibly meaningful to me…I appreciate that they are regulars, they come, we know each other’s names. I see people regularly over time. And I value the people I work with. We could use more.”

There’s no typical day in the busy Shop the Dock, but work primarily focuses on making as much food as possible available to the agencies coming in and keeping the area clear and safe. “I come in and there are predictable tasks— it’s mostly getting food from the production area (receiving) into the Shop the Dock Cooler and the shelf stable area for people to just come and shop.”

She also values the close relationships she’s developed working alongside the picking and receiving teams.

“They are always bringing us things and assisting us and getting things in their trucks. It’s great to know people by name and they know me and feel very supported that we’re all working toward the same level of service.”

One of her favorite parts of volunteering initially was that it kept her fit. An avid rower, she was able to get a workout volunteering when her rowing club shut down during the pandemic.

But her very favorite part soon became the people.

“I walked in here and met people who had been with the organization for decades. I knew volunteers who came onto staff so it told me something about the workplace culture. I value the people, I value the diversity of the workforce and the mutually supportive feel. The volunteers are treated as extremely valuable.

“I often say I feel like I see the world differently,” she says, reflecting on her volunteering experience.  “In part through the lens of food, through the lens of food insecurity, the staggering numbers of how much food waste there is. And what does it take to bring that number down, what does it take to make a difference in distribution systems where there is a lot of food but how do we get it to the people who need it.”

“It’s meaningful work,” she concludes. “And you feel that immediately. It’s not abstract at all, when you’re packaging up bulk stuff, when you’re sorting things, when you’re helping push things out the door, it’s not abstract.”