Volunteers in the Community

Food Bank Director Cathy Peirol and volunteers Jerry Stokes, June Floyd, Billye Jones and Pat Thomsen take a break from preparations before the Nov. 1 food distribution. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

 

By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

 

Ask almost anyone in Waterville: volunteers are crucial to the working of our community. Volunteers fight fires, help people who are experiencing medical emergencies, keep the NCW Fair running, provide sports opportunities for children, keep our local Thrift Store open, feed the hungry and much more. This article, about the volunteers that run the Waterville Food Bank, is the second in a series that will focus on the efforts of volunteers and their contribution in our community.

 

Food bank volunteers make local food safety net possible

 

Volunteer June Floyd looks on as food coordinator Billye Jones rearranges frozen products prior to the Nov. 1 food distribution at Waterville Food Bank. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

Cathy Peirolo, a resident of Douglas, has been volunteering at the Waterville Food Bank for the past 16 years and has served as the food bank director (a volunteer position) for the last eight years.

She is at the food bank all day on distribution days, which are the first and third Thursdays of each month. She also helps to pick up donations at other times during the week and does other tasks related to managing this nonprofit organization.

Despite the many hours of time she has volunteered for the food bank over the years, Peirolo remains low key about her contribution.

“To me it isn’t really work anymore because it’s so routine,” Peirolo said.

Asked what keeps her going at the food bank, she said that she enjoys working with people.

Enjoyment in working with people seems to be something the five regular food bank volunteers have in common.

Billye Jones, who serves as food coordinator, has been volunteering since she moved to Waterville about eight years ago. She said that when she moved here she was by herself and needed something to do.

The food bank turned out to be the right thing for her.

She added, “I just enjoy the people.”

Jones is responsible for checking food items in when the truck from Northwest Harvest comes at about 8:40 a.m. each food distribution day. Then she helps to set up the tables and get everything ready for the distribution.

Director Cathy Peirolo gets food items ready for the Nov. 1 distribution at the Waterville Food Bank. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

Jerry Stokes has been helping for five years and according to the other volunteers provides needed muscle in moving heavy items and boxes around.

Stokes said he likes volunteering because he likes talking to people and it gives him something to do.

Pat Thomsen, who has been volunteering at the food bank about nine years, said that she learned that the food bank needed an extra volunteer and she thought that it was something she could easily add to her schedule, since the need was only two times a month.

Thomsen comes in every distribution day around 10 a.m. to bag up potatoes and onions. Then she comes back after lunch to continue getting the food ready and to pass out the meat products to those who come.

She said of her work at the food bank, “I am able to help people who have a need for some extra food.”

June Floyd, who is a neighbor to Peirolo, said that she has been helping for two years. Floyd, who worked at Mitchell’s Pharmacy for many years, knows most people in the community. Helping at the food bank is just a continuation of the relationships she has built over the years. Floyd said that volunteering at the food bank gives her something to help fill her time in her retirement. Floyd is responsible for checking people in at the front table before they collect their food items. This is important for record-keeping that needs to be done for the federal government.

The volunteers all know their own responsibilities.

“We have a system and it works good,” Peirolo said.

Up to about nine years ago the food bank was located at the Assembly of God Church and was operated under the auspices of the church. When the church closed down, the food bank had to look for an alternative location quickly. When that alternative was found at the senior center and the senior center building was gifted to the food bank, it opened up a whole new chapter for this organization.

The volunteers worked over a period of a year and a half to complete all the paperwork for being an independent nonprofit organization. According to Peirolo, the move ended up being a good thing.

“It stands on its own two feet,” she said of the food bank.

Tighter quarters also necessitated changes in how food was distributed. The volunteers used to prepare boxes for each person who came, but at the new location they found the best option to be putting all the food out on tables with signs telling people how much they can take of each kind of item. This way there is less waste as people can choose the foods they want and will use.

Peirolo said that about 50 families come each distribution day. This can vary seasonally with more people coming in the winter months when there is not as much work available.

Some people may stereotype those who use services like food banks, saying that they don’t want to work or that they are taking advantage of something offered for free.

In fact, Peirolo said that she sees people come when they are in need and then stop coming as soon as they have found employment. Some of these even have come back to volunteer their time at the food bank.

“I have seen very little abuse,” Peirolo said.

The Waterville Food Bank is open from 2:30 to 4 p.m. the first and third Thursday of each month. For more information or to volunteer, contact Peirolo at 630-9868.