Next up for our Meet a Food Banker series is Brenda Ward! Brenda has been with the food bank for 27 years; read below to learn more about her time at the food bank!
What do you do at the food bank?
I’m the Director of Human Resources and Administration. I deal with things like hiring, terming, employee injuries and many tasks that don’t neatly fit into anyone else’s box. I can have a full list of what I want to get done for a day, but I never really know what each day holds.
A big part of my job right now is recruitment, hiring, and keeping up with employees benefits and requests. There’s a lot of records management with Human Resources. When I first started I think we had 28 employees and now we have nearly 70, so I’m busy all the time and I really like that.
How did you end up in this role?
I used to work in banking and I was a Mortgage Note Specialist. I unexpectedly found myself without employment. I contacted a temp service and told them I was looking for work and they called me back a couple hours later and said they wanted me to go to West Michigan Gleaners. I thought they said a “Cleaners” and I told them I didn’t want to work at a dry cleaner, I wanted an office job. They told me it was a food bank and I thought ‘okay, it’s a bank, I’ll go check it out’. I ended up working there for two weeks when my then leader asked if I wanted to stay on permanently as the AP/AR Clerk. I was happy to say yes, and and I’ve been here ever since! When Ken, our current CEO came in, I told him that I would do anything they needed me to do as long as it doesn’t impact our ability to get food out to the community. I was promoted to Business Manager and eventually to Director of HR and Administration. I work at the food bank because I’ve experienced food insecurity as an adult, and my husband was poverty stricken as a child and went without food for days. It’s really important to the both of us that this food bank succeeds!
What’s your favorite part about your job?
Knowing every single day I get out of bed that I’m helping people. Even if what I’m doing isn’t in the spotlight, I know that my part helps. I know there’s so much we can do to help and I put my all into it. I also love that I never know what I’m going to do every day; for 27 years I’ve never been bored. It’s amazing!
Any standout memories?
A while back we used to all sit around in the break room and chat, and one day John (former CEO) came in and he said, “We have a problem with all this produce coming in during the summer. It’s laying around stinking up the warehouse.” We had interns that would be knee deep in produce trying to find the salvageable product. After he brought that up, we went looking for a solution on how to distribute this fresh food. One of our two most important goals was keeping food out of landfills.
John came in on a rainy morning and explained that a beer truck drove by and threw water on him and almost blew his little old Toyota off the road. It dawned on him that using those kind of trucks would be a perfect way to get the languishing product out to the community, and just make it available at no cost. So, the food bank bought some old beer trucks and started the first Mobile Food Pantry distribution model. And now most food banks across the U.S. are using their own version of a Mobile Food Pantry program. It was a really pivotal moment in food banking.
What motivates you to fight hunger?
Seeing it firsthand in my family and my husband’s years ago. Seeing the devastating effects of not having enough food; it really impacts a child’s ability to feel secure and trusting. Because then you’re in school and you don’t have lunch like your friends, or you don’t have the right clothes, or if you’re sick you can’t get the medication you need. If we as a food bank can provide food that will allow parents to take their child to the doctor or to the dentist, that’s just our little part. For me I think a lot about the children and seniors and those who absolutely can’t do anything else on their own to get the food they need.
What do you like to do in your free time?
When I am not talking about the food bank’s mission I am outdoors as much as is possible in Michigan. We like to snowmobile, go boating and fishing. We have a seasonal camper on a lake, and we love it. We love spending time with our grandsons. We bring them camping as much as possible. I also love to travel and craft.