“Giving Time” focuses on the invaluable volunteers who donate more than 310,000 hours to Second Harvest each year, more than doubling the size of our staff.

Special Blog Post featuring Heidi Gonzalez, as told to Matt Mastrangelo of Second Harvest Food Bank.

Heidi poses with SJ Gigante during one of her volunteer shifts.

Heidi poses with SJ Gigante during one of her volunteer shifts.

My name is Heidi Gonzalez. I started volunteering at Second Harvest in the 1990s when they built the Curtner warehouse. I became a team leader in 2002 when I finished my MBA at San Jose State. I thought that if I can work full-time and go to school, once I’ve completed school I could handle working full-time and being a team leader.

Typically, I come in on weekends and evenings and my role, aside from wearing this lovely blue shirt and lovely matching sweatshirt, is after the volunteers are welcomed by a Second Harvest staff member and get situated, I organize them around the task at hand. That can be sorting through the fresh produce that’s donated or it can be the canned goods from food drives. We are the many hands of volunteer labor, and I help to organize them, give instructions, guide them along the way, and help move the pallets once they’re loaded.

The shifts are usually two hours long and we can move anywhere from a few thousand cans, to over 5 tons of pears, in one shift. It’s remarkable, the amount of work that happens here on any given day.

Fighting hunger is important to me because hunger is in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It starts with nourishment. Food, shelter, safety. There are so many folks in need. The statistics I rattle off to volunteers, the “nearly 1 in 10 people get food from Second Harvest” or how now we help feed over 250,000 people per month. You know, when I started the number was less than 60,000. The scale that it’s grown is alarming to me. For me, as the product of immigrants – my grandparents immigrated from Spain, my mom immigrated from Europe after World War II – I’ve heard stories, first hand accounts of what it’s like to go without.

My grandparents were some of the earliest Spanish settlers in Sunnyvale and they put together, I’d call it a safety-net. It was a social club, but really to help the immigrants coming into the country and it was called Sociadad de Cervantes. It was set up to help immigrants first getting off the train in Sunnyvale with food, a place to stay, as they got on their feet here, working with agriculture. I think they inspired me in that regard. Nowadays I’m so fortunate, and there are so many people that aren’t. I feel that I can help with a bridge, it’s not a handout, it’s a bridge getting people to a place where they can make ends meet.

It’s heartbreaking to me to think of the wealth that we have. It just doesn’t make sense… in this area, how can we have people go hungry?

If you’re thinking about volunteering, you should know it’s the easiest thing to do. You just show up at your assigned time and they prep you. It’s not like the work where you feel this burden of “oh my gosh, I didn’t finish.” As much as you can do or whatever you can do makes a difference. And I’ll tell you what. It’s so energizing. To meet these members of the community that are pulling together to help and make a difference. It makes me feel better to know that I’m putting my time where it’s needed.

***If you would like to volunteer at Second Harvest, visit SHFB.org/volunteer.