Jennifer Gonzales, St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance
St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance
Organization profile

St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance, the world's first food bank, is a non-sectarian, nonprofit organization that alleviates hunger by efficiently gathering and distributing food to the hungry. Serving two-thirds of Arizona's 15 counties, the organization is committed to volunteerism, building community relationships and improving the quality of life for Arizonans in need.

St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance
2831 N. 31st Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85009
www.firstfoodbank.org

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Jennifer Gonzales

When Jennifer Gonzales decided to switch jobs, she knew exactly what she was looking for. She already had five years of experience working with and leading volunteers, and this time she wanted to focus on just working with volunteers. She wanted to stay in the nonprofit sector and work for a well-known organization. Above all, she wanted to make a difference.

When she saw the job description for Volunteer Services at St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance, "I just knew it was the position for me," she says. It wasn't until after she got the job and started her work, though, that she realized she wouldn't just be making a difference for the thousands of hungry people St. Mary's helps, but for the volunteers in her program, as well.

St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance was the world's first, and is now the world's largest, food bank. The organization serves nearly 400 nonprofit partner agencies at 500 sites covering two-thirds of Arizona's 15 counties. The agencies receiving food from the food bank serve a variety of clients-seniors, families, children and infants- of all colors, faiths and abilities. St. Mary's relies on thousands of food donors as well as thousands of financial contributors and volunteers. The support from individuals, corporations and foundations enables the Food Bank to take each dollar donated and provide enough food for seven meals.

As the Volunteer Services Specialist at St. Mary's Food Bank, Jennifer is responsible for recruiting all volunteers for special projects and events. "And here at the Food Bank," she says, "There is always something going on."

Some of the special events include food shows, sporting events, fairs and holiday events. Jennifer also recruits volunteers to help with projects on the St. Mary's campus, such as data entry, prepping for special events, accounting, kids café drivers, citrus gleaning, internship opportunities and more.

Jennifer takes her role very seriously, not only to recruit the volunteers, but to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to place them in a role in which they will shine. "I pride myself on ensuring that all volunteers have a positive and memorable experience here at our food bank," she says.

To recruit so many volunteers, Jennifer uses a number of tools, but she says VolunteerMatch is absolutely the best. "The website is beyond user friendly and I am able to post opportunities within a few minutes," she relates. An opportunity she posts on VolunteerMatch will typically get 10-12 responses, making it the easiest way for her to recruit amazing volunteers for St. Mary's.

"We have been fortunate in the fact that we have been able to work with lots of college students," Jennifer says. Many of these students need to complete 10-80 hours of service each semester. They are very busy and always on the go. Many of the students will walk in unsure about volunteering and not knowing what to expect. But by the end of their hours, even though it's a relatively short time, Jennifer says she can see a change.

The students get inspired by their work at St. Mary's, Jennifer says. Many of them make the choice to continue volunteering on a regular basis. "Giving someone an opportunity and seeing them do something positive with it - is truly remarkable!"

Jennifer shares another favorite aspect of her work: the parents who come in with their children to teach them the importance of giving back. In her mind, helping her volunteers get inspired to make a difference is just as vital as helping the hungry people in her state. "Volunteers inspire me every day that I am able to work with them," she says.

Working with volunteers so closely has helped Jennifer discover her own special way of giving back. "Seeing all the good work that they do on a daily basis just makes me strive to want to be a positive leader in our community," she says. "I also love that I'm able to give people the opportunity to be a part of this great organization."

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