12. Priscilla Nelson


Priscilla sits at her deskHired in 1983, two years after the food bank was founded, Priscilla was the longest-tenured employee until her retirement in 2018.

Priscilla started working at the food bank when it wasn’t yet part of the Feeding America network and was known as West Michigan Gleaners. She was around for each of our name changes and worked at all four of our locations — from a small warehouse in downtown Grand Rapids, where she had to chip ice out of the toilet in winter, to our current location in Comstock Park.

Initially, she was hired to help with anything and everything, back when the food bank had just six full-time employees. She soon tried many different jobs, each one becoming more specialized. Throughout her tenure, she drove forklifts in the warehouse, transported food on 26-foot trucks, helped agency partners with orders, managed Mobile Pantries and developed an inventory coordination system. She had her hands in nearly every part of the food bank, and loved being able to see all its different sides.

She applied for the job at first just to pay the bills.

“I was a divorced mother of three. I had a house I had to pay for and kids I had to take care of,” she said.

She stayed because of a passion that grew for our mission.

“It was how I felt about the people I was helping,” she said. “My heart was for the older ones and the kids because I had kids of my own.”

Priscilla remembers her years at the food bank fondly. Some of her standout moments are the times in the early days, when the food bank used older equipment. One time, a forklift took her for a free ride — until she remembered she could pull an emergency brake!

“I enjoyed that place. It was family,” she said. “I knew everybody.”

To this day, so many staff have great memories of Priscilla — she’s retired, but the groundwork she laid lives on.

Ryan VanMaldegen, now the food bank’s Logistics Manager, shared: “Priscilla was a mentor to me when I first started working at the food bank in 2002. She showed me the ropes and took me under her wing. I appreciate all the years of wisdom and her friendship as well.”

Denise Sweet, Agency Relations Manager & Food Safety Officer, shared: “Priscilla taught me a lot. Not only work related but life too. I loved our talks and loved her stories. Priscilla is a very strong person and I think the world of her.”

Brenda Ward, Director of Administration and H.R., shared: “One of the things I will always remember about Cilla is her tenacity and drive to provide for her children. She worked hard every day. Cilla had several bad breaks in life, yet she consistently worked through them. She was rough around the edges, but had a heart of gold. Priscilla believed with all her heart in the mission.”

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