DHSS leaders commit to Food Bank volunteer opportunities

March 10, 2021

CAPTION: Delaware Health and Social Services leaders Kiki Evinger, from left; Mei Johnson, and Jill Fredel are regular volunteers at the Food Bank of Delaware’s Newark site.

Notice the easy banter and mutual respect, and it’s obvious that Kiki Evinger, Mei Johnson, and Jill Fredel have a friendship that extends beyond their workplace, Delaware Health and Social Services. This is the state agency that provides oversight and services for a myriad of departments, including Medicaid, public health, and assistance for state residents; Evinger and Johnson are policy advisors and Fredel is the top communications officer. While their professional responsibilities may keep them behind screens in the workplace so they don’t have much client interactions, each has seen the benefits and the positive impact the Food Bank of Delaware has on people’s lives.

They make time – at least twice a week – to volunteer for hands-on jobs, like packing and sorting, at the Food Bank’s Newark site. For them and for the people we serve, it’s the proverbial win-win, best of all worlds, relationship. Evinger and Johnson credit Fredel for drawing them into a service project they find very rewarding.

“We were looking for a way to benefit the community and blow off steam, to create a work-life balance,” said Evinger.

“I became addicted,” added Johnson.

Fredel’s volunteer ties go back at least 20 years; she credits her late sister, Ellen Fredel, for connecting her to the Food Bank’s Garfield Way location. “They gave us a mop and broom and told us to clean up. I looked at my sister, and she told me to just do it,” she said.

The rest is history. “I’ve made sandwiches and meals for kids, put together tons of boxes, sorted donations, sanitized. I guess the only thing I haven’t done is work on the farm,” said Fredel.

Since those early days the Food Bank continues its evolution to meet the needs of food-insecure Delawareans, outgrowing several locations before moving to the Newark headquarters where the trio volunteer. “I love the new location,” said Fredel, who made a donation in her sister’s memory to the Food Bank’s capital campaign.

Her sister died in 2010, and Fredel explains that her family’s values undoubtedly led her to developing a strong commitment to the Food Bank’s mission. “I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin; we also had four brothers. My parents taught us that it was a sin for anyone in this country to go hungry . . . and then I sucked these two in,” she said.

Although they typically volunteer on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, these volunteers were able to do some day shifts in January and February, Johnson said. “There are regulars, but everyone gets into a rhythm and spins together,” she said.

Evinger notes that the physical nature of the volunteer shifts creates “fake gym days . . . lifting boxes.” She’s encouraged other co-workers to join in the fun. The volunteer room is “COVID safe” as far as screening and distancing, so some have taken her up on the offer.

What might not be obvious at first is that these three women thrive on healthy competition, often making a game to see what pallet line finishes packing first.  “Joe (Certesio, FBD volunteer coordinator) is a taskmaster. He jumps in and makes us laugh,” said Johnson.

They all agree – if there were no work schedule conflict – they’d love to volunteer at a mass food distribution where thousands of families statewide receive food.

“We know the individual benefits; we see the direct impact,” said Johnson.

Fredel recalls helping at a Holloway Service Center distribution. “We see the gratitude. It breaks down barriers. We are helping are neighbors,” she said.

Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities at the Food Bank of Delaware.

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