Barb & Bob Boyer: Building Bridges of Community by Volunteering

Hope Center Pantry volunteers make a lasting impact by feeding the hungry in Brown County, Wisconsin. The pantry offers many different ways to volunteer. Here’s Barb and Bob Boyer’s story of volunteering at our food pantry.

Volunteers Barb and Bob Boyer at Hope Center Food Pantry, Green Bay

By Barb Boyer, Hope Center Food Pantry Volunteer

I started working at St. Patrick’s Pantry in 1998. I feel it is so beneficial for teenagers to volunteer at the pantry. Not only is it necessary to give back, but it also helps them realize that just because a person (or family) is in need of help, it doesn’t make them any lesser. They are all such polite and good people. I am amazed that the pantry clients are always willing to help us pantry volunteers out if we are having trouble understanding what our client is trying to tell us.

I have now been at the pantry for 22 years, and it’s one of the best things I have ever done.

By Bob Boyer, Hope Center Food Pantry Volunteer

A Call to Action: Barb’s Exhaustion and My Decision to Volunteer

My wife, Barb, had been volunteering for a number of years at St. Patrick’s Food Pantry, even before she retired as a librarian at the downtown Brown County Library. One day, she came home from the pantry completely exhausted. She came into my office at home (I’m a retired English teacher from St. Norbert), dropped down on a chair and exclaimed, “We had 55 people at the pantry!” I was concerned at how tired she was and immediately said, “I’m going with you next time to see what’s what,” as though I would have some solution. Or maybe I could help to lighten her load.

How Speaking Spanish Became a Valuable Asset at the Pantry

I did go with Barb that next time, 15 or so years ago, and every time after that until now. What happened was my speaking Spanish. At that time, there were a considerable number of recent Hispanic immigrants coming to the pantry. I had a reasonable conversational ability in Spanish that came in handy that day, especially with new visitors to the pantry, signing them up and then getting their particular requests. At the end of the day, Pantry Manager Donna Kessler came up to me and said, in her memorable style, “You WILL come back next time, won’t you.” Not a question.

The Companionship and Dedication of Fellow Volunteers

I may have actually decided that I would become a regular before Donna spoke to me, and for a number of reasons: the other volunteers, like Greg, a medical doctor and fellow member of St. Norbert College Parish who spent his free days helping Donna “in the back” to sort out and organize what had been donated. And like the two elderly women volunteers I met that first time who helped with interviewing clients and packing boxes. When they told me they were 83 years old, I let escape a “wow.” I was probably 70 at the time. And, of course, like Margaret, our fellow “Third-Thursday volunteer,” whose sense of humor and fun still keeps us smiling.

Cultivating an Inclusive Environment at the Pantry

Most of all what persuaded me to “come back next time” were the people (‘our clients’) who came to the pantry in need of some help over a bump in the road. They impressed me in any number of ways. They were grateful. I recall the middle-aged Hispanic gentleman who looked at me quite startled and exclaimed, in Spanish, “You actually SPEAK Spanish.” They were cooperative and helpful with one another. They always knew and religiously respected “who was next in line,” especially when we lost track because of the considerable numbers. There was a steep set of stairs that clients had to navigate entering and leaving. Often, they helped each other carrying boxes up the steps. And when my Spanish faltered on occasions, other Hispanics helped out with translation. The same help ethic has prevailed with other newcomers to the pantry, with the arrival Hmong, and more recently, Somalis.

The Power of Community That Keeps Volunteers Coming Back

Clearly what has kept me coming “the next time” (I’m now a year older than the two ladies I met my first time at the pantry) is the extraordinary sense of community that prevails at the pantry.

Volunteers provide an essential community service by feeding the hungry in the Green Bay area of Northeast Wisconsin. Thank you, Barb and Bob, and all of the volunteers at Hope Center Pantry. Contact us about volunteer opportunities or to schedule a visit to the pantry to experience volunteerism first-hand. The pantry is open 1-3pm Monday through Thursday at 505 Clinton St. Green Bay. Read the How You Can Help information to learn more.