by Mary Ellen Kuhn
IFT’s anti-hunger initiative, IFT Cares, gave about two dozen volunteers an excellent reason to get up early on Saturday morning, June 11. Volunteers boarded a bus at the New Orleans Hilton Riverside Hotel at 7:30 a.m. and traveled for about an hour to the Plaquemines Parish, where they worked at a mobile pantry operated by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana.
On site, the volunteers unloaded 5,822 pounds of food—including frozen products, dry goods, and fresh produce—and packed it up for distribution to 146 clients.
IFT incoming President-Elect John Ruff was among those helping out. “IFT Cares started in New Orleans in 2008,” said Ruff. “It was the first time we’d returned to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, and it seemed the right thing for IFT to do. I was overwhelmed by the immense need for aid. Since then, I’ve always made IFT Cares the No. 1 item I’ve signed up for at the Annual Meeting & Food Expo.”
“IFT Cares has allowed me to make a number of new friends, improve my communication and teamwork skills, and give back to the community,” said Matthew Cael, IFT Student Association President-Elect. “The benefits of IFT Cares beat those few extra hours of sleep any day.”
For volunteer Bryan DiMenna, Executive Director of QC Laboratories, taking time out to help out comes naturally. “My wife and I are pretty heavily involved in charitable activities,” he said. In fact, he met his wife five or six years ago at a Thanksgiving food drive. Now, each year at Thanksgiving the couple assembles and distributes food baskets to 20 or 30 needy families in a program they organize themselves.
Participant Jennifer Merle, a Rutgers University graduate student, was also an enthusiastic volunteer. Back at school, she encourages members of the Graduate Student Association for food science majors at Rutgers to tackle community-service projects, so the IFT Cares event was the kind of program she relishes. “Any time there’s a community service or volunteer event, I’m there,” she said.
Wayne Iwaoka of the University of Hawaii has volunteered in past IFT Cares programs, and he appreciates the camaraderie the experience always entails. Not only are you doing something worthwhile, but “you get to meet other IFT members on a more personal basis,” he observed.
Mobile pantry volunteer Aubrey Dyer of FT Technologies in Australia is likely the IFT Cares participant who traveled the farthest to help out. Dyer, who is from Australia, got into New Orleans on Friday night, but still managed to be up bright and early to take part in the event. “I knew it would be a worthwhile cause, and I figured I’d be up anyway,” he said with a laugh.
The Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana is an affiliate of the Feeding America network of food banks, with whom IFT has partnered for four years on the IFT Cares philanthropic initiative.
This year’s IFT Cares program was a sellout-success with all available volunteer slots filled. On Wednesday morning, June 15, IFT Cares volunteers will spend several hours sorting and repacking food at the food bank.
If volunteering at the mobile pantry or food bank didn’t fit into your Annual Meeting & Food Expo schedule, you can still help feed the hungry. Look for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana cash collection booth in the convention center registration area and consider making a contribution.