From Volunteers to Joining #TeamBCOC

From Volunteers to Joining #TeamBCOC

BCOC couldn’t accomplish all that it does without dedicated volunteers, who last year devoted a total of 117,484 hours to help those in our community. Many of the 1,926 volunteers helped collect, store, and distribute over 3.5 million pounds of food to those in need.

Angela and Chris are two volunteers whose commitment to the mission grew, and who now work at BCOC. The same passion that led them to volunteer eventually led them to apply for jobs in which they could broaden their impact and become more fully engaged in the work as employees.

Angela was first introduced to BCOC years ago when her children were young and they volunteered to help with a service project. Over the years, she continued to help with food pick-ups at Wegmans, and adopted a family during the holidays. Soon she was working with groups at Delaware Valley University’s Hope of the Harvest Program, growing food to be distributed through BCOC’s network of food partners. When the HELP Center opened, she helped stock and distribute food from there. She also helped at the Fresh Connect site in Bristol.

“My favorite part is interacting with all the people, building rapport, building relationship,” Angela explained. “Volunteering gave me the opportunity to get outside of my bubble and change my perspective. It made me realized how privileged I am.”

She and her family were on what was to be an extended stay in Spain when COVID hit, and they were forced to quarantine in a small, 400 square-foot apartment. “It was then that I decided, that when I got home safely, I would get more involved helping others in my community. When a job with the Food Program at BCOC opened up, I applied.”

Chris also started out as a volunteer. He was first exposed to community action during his work/study program with the Horticulture department at Delaware Valley University while pursuing his horticulture degree. It was a perfect year to be there, since it was the inaugural year of the Hope of the Harvest garden. Chris learned about BCOC after graduation when he chose to volunteer with the organization that supplied the workforce required to harvest the crops. Once he received a taste of community action as a volunteer, he sought more opportunities to serve. Whenever he had extra time, he volunteered at the garden, with Fresh Connect in Ottsville, at the cold storage warehouse, or distributing senior food boxes in Quakertown.

Chris saw food and agriculture policy as a pivotal issue, driving him to return to Del Val University to pursue a graduate degree in Food and Agricultural Policy. “When I was looking for employment, I knew I wanted to be part of helping my community, and that the work needed to be meaningful,” Chris recalls. “I wanted to be proud of my work.” Today, Chris is the Food Program’s Warehouse Operation Coordinator.

“This position allows me to grow in my understanding of how our food system works,” Chris explained. His employment with BCOC has provided him with a unique vantage point to learn about how the logistics of moving food throughout the system work at the federal and state level, how donated food is tracked, and how food pantries, Philabundance, Feeding Pennsylvania, and government food programs work together to feed the hungry.

Right now, Chris sees the need for more meat and healthy protein sources for distribution. Supply chain challenges, reported on heavily in the news during COVID, have impacted BCOC’s donations as well. Chris explained: “If meat is held up along its route, it has a shorter shelf life and must be frozen. Months ago, that created a donation surplus. However, when there are shortages and food costs are high, donations can become scarce. I regularly hear from pantries that are having trouble sourcing healthy meat. As the lead agency in the county, we do everything possible to assist our partner pantries by finding more donor partners able to support food security for our neighbors in Bucks County.”

“Being on our food team is definitely a labor of love,” Food Program Manager, Amanda Musselman, believes. “It can be overwhelming to think about how many times a single box of food has been touched before it gets to its final destination. Our team puts in the muscle to process donations, organize pallets for delivery and pick up, and offer last mile delivery* to get into the hands of those who need it most. I appreciate that our team has a contagious passion because food is the catalyst for social change. Food is community, and our food team exemplifies what is means to be community action.”

Chris feels that “There are a lot of ways to invest your time—resting, hobbies, for example. But when you invest your time working with like-minded colleagues and volunteers, there is inherent value. You are part of an organization trying to improve the lives of other people, and I am proud to be part of that.”

*Last mile delivery-the transportation of the goods from the warehouse to its final destination i.e. Fresh Connect, food pantries, and directly to residents homes.