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Hands Behind the Hunger Fight: Our Paths to the Food Bank

There’s an unspoken pressure when you enter the workforce after high school or college graduation that you’re beginning an immutable career — it’s a message to make your first stepping stone count because it will be the type of business you’re in until you can comfortably retire in your 60s. But as I entered the professional workforce a little over a year ago, I’ve noticed how unique everyone’s paths are — some are straightforward and others are winding, ever-changing.

Food banking has been a curve in the path for many of us here at South Michigan Food Bank. We’ve come from places like the film industry and banking and insurance sales, convening on this road to ensuring our neighbors don’t go hungry. I asked our team members to give me 10 minutes to talk about their career history, how they ended up here, and what this work means to them. I hope you enjoy our stories.

Emma, Advancement Coordinator

John Nichols, Driver

John started out in hotel & restaurant management on the East Coast, but when his wife mentioned moving to the West Coast, they threw a dart at the map and landed in Eugene, Oregon. There, he went to film school, which opened doors for him to shoot TV news, own his own grip truck for transporting film equipment, and manage lighting, crews, & aesthetics.

“The beautiful thing was, you’re working with a group of talented people trying to accomplish a common goal. I’ve found that very same spirit here, which is what I really like about the Food Bank. It’s a collection of really unique individuals, and we’re all working towards the same goal. Feed the people. That’s the mission. It’s hugely satisfying.” 

When John moved back to Michigan to care for his mother, he started driving trucks but wasn’t satisfied with moving goods without a purpose: “A human being has to have a feeling that their words are important to others, that they’re engaged in a project, working towards a common goal together, and that what they’re doing is important.”

A friend of his referred him to the Food Bank, where he could transport food throughout our eight counties to help feed those in need. Here, he’s found an intersection between practical and purposeful. “It’s really, really nice to be able to roll in to a location and have people look at you and say ‘thank you.’ And you know you really, seriously helped them out. That feels good. You’re not just dropping a box, you’re involved in these peoples’ lives.”

John is continuing to pursue his passion for film by making short films on the weekend as he acquires equipment and crew members; we love seeing our team enrich the world by various means, like fulfilling careers and creative hobbies.

Alex Layne, Volunteer Manager

In Alex’s family, you weren’t required to have a job during school if you played sports. Since she played sports, she got her first job at 18 as a cashier at Meijer; after one year, she left for PNC, taking a full-time customer service position. At 20, she became a team manager, and at the end of her 8 years at PNC, she was training incoming employees in the new hire program. 

In January 2021, she knew she needed something new — “the banking industry for 8 years is hard on a mind and soul” — so she came to the Food Bank, attracted to this position because of “the mix of people interaction and admin and managing.” Now, she loves seeing the regular volunteers who come in daily, weekly, or monthly. “They welcome you as much as you welcome them.”

Alex also shared a few things she’s learned along her path:

  • “Anytime you’re put in charge of managing a group of people, it teaches you a whole lot about people interaction. The biggest lesson that I learned was really how to treat people. Not to look at them like a task or 5-minute social interaction but as an actual person.”
  • “Working for 10+ years before choosing to go back to school was really helpful. I already had time management skills. College students have to learn that through college, I’m going into it with those skills already.”
  • “I used to preach to my team at PNC: ‘It’s going to happen how it’s supposed to happen. The path you’re on is meant to be. Don’t compare yourself to other people, this dream path that you see, it wasn’t made for you.’’’

Just like John and Alex, lots of our team members have great stories about how they ended up here at the Food Bank. In the coming weeks, keep an eye out for more stories on the hands behind the hunger fight!

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