Thankful for dedicated volunteers like the Rodriguez family

May 15, 2020

At the Food Bank of Delaware, we know that it takes a village, to paraphrase the African proverb, to meet the needs of food-insecure Delawareans. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a growing number of people need assistance so we rely more than ever on volunteers to get the job done, volunteers like the Rodriquez family in New Castle County.

Jennifer Rodriguez, along with her son, Jordan, and daughters Alexa and Caroline, have consistently donated time and energy as Food Bank volunteers. The Food Bank relies on volunteers; in 2019, we had 15,947 volunteer visits totaling 42,357 hours. Volunteers represent all walks of life, ranging from age 7 to active retirees. Unlike many of our volunteer families, for the Rodriguez family, the mom, Jennifer, didn’t bring her kids to the volunteer room as part of a school or scout effort.

“My kids have been going longer, and I started going because of them,” Jennifer said. The “kids” are Jordan, a recent graduate of Mt. Saint Mary’s University; Alexa, a University of Delaware junior majoring in medical diagnostics and biology, and Caroline, a 2020 Middletown High School graduate who will be headed to UD in the fall.

Alexa connected first when she started volunteering while still in high school. “Having volunteered over 50 hours for the Food Bank of Delaware, I can say with confidence that it is beyond rewarding being a part of the amazing work this organization does for our community. I love volunteering in the Healthy Pantry and creating meal kits as I know the work that I am doing is directly helping those in need in the greater Newark area. It is so fulfilling to realize that the volunteer work done at the Food Bank is improving the lives of so many. I have had nothing but positive experiences with the extraordinary staff and my fellow volunteers. My time volunteering here has shown me that one person can truly make an impact,” she said.

Her older brother, Jordan, echoes her sentiments. “I have always strived to live a meaningful life through volunteering and giving back to others. Volunteering at the Food Bank is an enriching experience that allows me to see the positive impact on the community immediately. I have learned a lot about food donations, food distribution and food insecurity right here in Delaware. Wes and Joe (volunteer coordinators at our Newark site) do a great job in explaining the Food Banks’ mission and training and coordinating the volunteers. Every time I leave, I feel a sense of accomplishment.”

Caroline, the youngest Rodriguez, also describes her experiences as positive and rewarding. “When we fill shopping carts in the Healthy Pantry, it makes me happy seeing the carts being pushed out to the cars. At the Food Bank, I have received a unique experience that no other volunteer organization has offered me. I think that it’s important for everyone to contribute to helping those in need, especially during hard times, such as what we are going through now due to COVID-19.”

So, their enthusiasm fueled by dinner table conversations prompted their mom, Jennifer, to start volunteering at the Food Bank in February. She’s no stranger to lending a helping hand; she’s a disability caseworker by profession, and she notes the family has contributed to food drives.

“We have always been on the end of collecting, so it’s interesting to see how food is distributed, to see the families who receive. Now I get to see what they (her children) are talking about,” she said.

And, for the record, her husband, Jorge, – the children’s father – has also volunteered through his employer, Capital One, a valued corporate Food Bank partner.

Volunteering, like work, involves a slight learning curve, she noted. “Creating a box – or a backpack – can be a little intimidating. But we got to load trunks [of clients’ vehicles] is very rewarding,” she said.

“Helping eliminate food insecurity is a lifetime commitment. We are all home quarantining, and we don’t all go at the same time, but we all talk about it. The Food Bank makes us feel valued.”

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