Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service 2014 Volunteers
How does the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, an agency that depends on its dedicated volunteers, help every one of them contribute to the best of their abilities? That was the challenge Earl Leonard, the Food Bank’s Production Room Manager, tackled regarding one of his valued volunteers, Heather Markowski.
Heather, along with Connie Breed, her assistant, volunteers three days a week in the Production Room. But since Heather uses a wheelchair, the stainless steel work tables were too high for her, the table tops coming up to her chin. There were limited jobs she could perform comfortably.
Bulk foods like pasta, cereal and popcorn arrive at the Food Bank in giant refrigerator-sized boxes and must be divided into client-sized packages; volunteers are responsible for every step of the process. They seal long plastic tubes at intervals, creating bags; the food items are fed into a hopper and the bags are filled; then the bags are precisely weighed, labeled and closed tightly with twist ties.
Earl knew there had to be a creative solution to the accessibility problem. He contacted a local manufacturing company that had made items for the Food Bank before. Earl, Heather and the company representative put their heads together and brainstormed a design for a table that would allow Heather to fully participate in all Production Room work. After they completed the fabrication, the company generously donated the sparkling new table to the Food Bank for Heather’s use.
“One day I came in,” says Heather, “and Darlene Bachman, the Food Bank Volunteer Coordinator, was waiting for me, a big smile on her face. ‘We have a surprise for you!’ she said.”
The worktable is just the right height for Heather and her wheelchair. It fits flush with the other, higher worktables, allowing Heather to work alongside the other volunteers. She is no longer excluded from the camaraderie of the other volunteers or any job that needs doing. An added benefit is that the table is on wheels, allowing it to be moved anywhere in the facility where Heather may work.
“The people at the Food Bank have gone out of their way to accommodate everyone,” says Connie.
“It makes you feel like one big family,” adds Heather. “It’s fun to come to work.”
Heather and Connie are seasoned volunteers with several other organizations in the area. But not all of their experiences have been positive. “In one volunteer position, we didn’t feel useful. We didn’t even feel like we were wanted there. At the Food Bank, we’re contributing to our community. We know we’re making a difference,” says Heather.
Connie agrees. “I’m amazed by how many people in so many counties are helped by this work.”
Thanks to out of the box thinking and the generous donation, Heather has one more tool towards full accessibility at the Food Bank. In the fight to end hunger in the Southern Tier, we cherish every volunteer. .
For more information contact:
Darlene Bachman, Volunteer Coordinator
at 607.796.6061 x4043 or email