Ten years ago, on her birthday, Colleen received a phone call, informing her that she got a job at Second Harvest Food Bank. With great excitement, she responded it was the best birthday present ever! Last month, our awesome Volunteer Engagement Coordinator celebrated a decade at the Food Bank.

Colleen Murphy celebrated her tenth work anniversary

Colleen, tell us about yourself.

I grew up in San Francisco; my mother was Irish and my father was Danish. One thing is true – we do become our mothers as we get older.  My father instilled the values of good work ethics. Prior to Second Harvest Food Bank, I worked for another non-profit, a church, as an administrative assistant. Prior to that, I worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad for almost 30 years. I was offered a job right out of high school and rose through the ranks to become a personnel manager. I traveled quite a bit as part of the job, including several southwestern states such as Utah and New Mexico. We did a lot of contract work with Navajo Native Americans and the different tribes in the Midwest. I got to see very different lifestyles. When husbands would come in for interviews, their wives and children would all come with them. The women were so grateful that their husbands were able to get this seasonal work. Communities then and now very much look the same: families, food and work.

For 40 years, I drove by our Curtner location and at the time, I had no idea what Second Harvest Food Bank was. Who would have guessed that I would be working for this organization today!

We are celebrating your tenth work anniversary with Second Harvest. How do you feel about it?

Old! (Laughs). It’s hard to believe – time went by really fast! I’ve seen many changes over the 10 years.

What brought you to Second Harvest?

I had previously worked at a church and was laid off the same time my husband was ill. He passed away and I came to the Food Bank at what was probably the lowest time of my life – I lost my husband and my job at the same time. A church acquaintance of mine had a friend who worked at Second Harvest and suggested I apply for a job there. I sent in what felt like my millionth resume and got a call back. Working at Second Harvest put me into a position of being able to help others even though I was really just trying to help myself get back on my feet. It was a great fit!

Why do you think it’s important to fight hunger?

Having been in the workforce for so many years, feeling very secure, I know that it only takes one incident to need help. When I got laid off, I wasn’t worried at all at first. I believed it would be easy to find another job.  However, because of the recession, so many people were applying to the same jobs at the same time. I went through almost all my savings before being able to find my job at Second Harvest. Anyone who lives in the Bay Area might need some help at some point in their lives.

We also need to fight hunger because of the simple facts that families need to feed their children and seniors need nutritious meals.

You were working at our Curtner Center before (Colleen now works at Cypress). Tell us about it!

I really appreciated my 3 minute commute! In 2008, my desk was in the kitchen area at Curtner. I was in good company with Rao (Second Harvest Database Administrator), Jamison (Second Harvest Senior Application Specialist), and Nicole (Second Harvest Food Connection Senior Manager). We got really hungry when staff came in to heat their lunch!

Describe your position and Volunteer Services in 10 words

Depending on the campaign or season:  challenging, crazy, frustrating, happy, sad, exhausting, fun, gratifying, humbling and amazing.

What are your primary responsibilities as the Volunteer Engagement Coordinator?

As the previous Scheduler and now Engagement Coordinator, I am responsible for all the food sorting volunteer opportunities at the Cypress Center. Second Harvest is so widely respected that we get thousands of requests to volunteer — from high schoolers to families to our many corporate and faith-based groups. The number of people who want to volunteer to help those in need never ceases to amaze me.

What’s a typical day like for you? The fun part of the job is that no two days are the same. Scheduling volunteers and constant phone calls are the bulk of my job. I also enjoy collaborating  with other department staff on projects.

What do you love the most about your position?

The variety. We have a great Volunteer Services team and if you like the people you work with, every day if joyful. A great supportive work environment makes it a lot easier to come to work every day!

What do you like most about Second Harvest?

Our mission: to help those in need in our community. About a handful of staff may remember the “Stimulus Food Box Program.”  It was part of the money allocated from the feds to help us get out of the great recession.  We got money to purchase food that was boxed by volunteers into “Stimulus Boxes.”  We set up special distribution locations for San Mateo County and we may have gotten extra money to give out to pantries in Santa Clara County. Low income families with children could get 2 boxes of food in a month: rice, beans, canned fruit & vegetables, macaroni and cheese dinners, cereal, tuna, peanut butter and tomatoes along with fresh produce and refrigerated and frozen items. This project was a major accomplishment from many collaborating departments. The camaraderie was evident when the staff had a major competition building almost 4000 boxes in one afternoon! Can you guess what Department’s team won?

What was your proudest moment working at Second Harvest Food Bank?

Over the years, I have taken a lot of pictures at our various events. I’ve worked on all the scrapbooks that sent off some of our finest staff members: our previous CEO Kathy Jackson, our former VP of Community Engagement Cindy McCown, and many more!

I also really enjoy putting on our volunteer recognition events. Volunteers feel the “love” and appreciation for the work they do for the food bank. One of our most memorable events was when we had the Mayor of San Jose, Sam Liccardo, attend the luncheon. He and his staff were very impressed with our organization.

Sam Liccardo attending a Volunteer Recognition Luncheon at Second Harvest Food Bank 

Decorations at one of Second Harvest Food Bank’s Volunteer Recognition Luncheon with a “Paris” theme!

What have you learned by working at Second Harvest?

I was not born with patience, nor do I have any today. My biggest takeaway is to be flexible.

How has Volunteer Services evolved over 10 years?

One would think that with the economy booming, people would have food, but in reality, it’s been quite the opposite. The cost of housing in Santa Clara County has taken a huge chunk out of families’ budgets. We are sorting and boxing more fresh produce more than ever

What was the greatest accomplishment of the Volunteer Services team over the last 10 years?

In my opinion, getting the Cypress Center up and running 6 years ago and distributing fresh produce out of this location.

What big projects is your team currently working on?

This year we have begun an exciting, monumental task of implementing online volunteer sign-ups. Stay tuned for the Salesforce launch coming soon!

What’s your most memorable memory of a volunteer?

In the past, we used to have a program called “Partners in Need” where people in need of food could come volunteer to sort food and newspapers and would get one bag of groceries each week. At our Curtner location, a couple of the volunteers in that program were in their 90’s. One of them, Alma, had been volunteering with us for quite a while when we organized a birthday celebration for her. She was a young 92 and appreciated that the Food Bank valued their volunteers so much.

 If you could switch your position with anyone at Second Harvest, who would that be?

I’d love to be a marketing coordinator, to visit sites and interview clients.

What’s on your wishlist for the next three years at Second Harvest?

I will continue to contribute in any way I can to ensure our department is successful.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I love to garden, read and visit with friends.  I have two young Shih Tzus, Buddy and Cooper, who love to go to the dog park.

Buddy and Cooper

Thanks Colleen for all you do! We’re incredibly fortunate to have your talents at Second Harvest!