Volunteer Profiles

Our volunteers are simply the best! We’re highlighting just a few of our amazing volunteer team below. Read more about them and find out why they volunteer for our programs and why they care so much about helping those in our community who are most at risk of food insecurity.

Gao Wen Shao

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I started volunteering for FFF during the pandemic. Taking time off from work (in financial services) gave me a chance to slow down, spend more time with my kids, and generally re-think what’s important. The degree of economic hardship and food insecurity has been so high during the pandemic. One thing great about the school lunch distribution program is seeing and greeting families – especially when the younger kids come! They are adorable when they ride up on their scooters, wearing cute masks. 

Remote schooling is tough – I wonder if picking up lunch might be the one of the few times when they talk to someone outside their house! My son (who’s older) hasn’t seen his friends in-person since Thanksgiving. Many families are regulars, so we may know when they’ll come, how much they need, or their specific preferences. Our program is outdoors. It’s been good to have a reason to leave the house and get fresh air. There were uncomfortable times during the coldest winter days – it was amusing to huddle around a camping heater to keep our feet warm! As we get into the spring, it will again be nice to be outdoors. Though we may be be less busy as more kids return to in-person school – and that’s a good thing!”

Justin Weiler

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My volunteering with Food For Free started back 2014 (during my sophomore year of high school) as part of the Weekend Backpack program – worked with FFF to open a food pantry in my high school. After college I started volunteering with the Home Delivery, Family Meals and later Just Eats programs starting in 2018.

A big theme of my high school education were ideas on justice, as a part of the school’s culinary program the focus was on Food Justice. Learning more about the struggle people went through, as well as working with FFF during my teenage years made me want to keep going with the organization to support my community. When I was volunteering with the Home Delivery program I was driving around Cambridge and really meeting the people who benefited from what I was doing. Being able to interact and meet the people helped by Food For Free really makes it a meaningful experience.

I have worked as a cook/baker for various restaurants in Cambridge and Boston, currently unemployed but I’ve got advantages and privileges that many don’t. Going out and volunteering means I can still contribute to my city and my community.

Sadly, I’ve not had a most memorable volunteer accomplishment yet but I still want to continue and maybe have one of those golden moments that people talk about. 

A quote (or saying) that summarizes my perspective on volunteering or food justice is by Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro – ‘For anything in this world, it’s true value is only born when it’s shared. The same goes for my cooking. Something you make only for yourself has no value at all.’

Elena Rivas

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What you did prior to Food For Free, could be your occupation, hobbies (anything you are comfortable sharing)?

“I do research in biology, mostly on genomes designing computational approaches and algorithms to find interesting stuff. I also teach at the university, mathematical methods used in biology questions. I like to run, that is my major hobby, and to read and watch movies.”

What motivated you to volunteer with your Food For Free?

“It was the pandemic, and feeling that I had more free time, and that such exceptional circumstances had to be really hard for a lot of people. People that had suddenly lost their jobs, or had to quit them because the children had to be taken care of all day. Having food at the table is such a basic need. I still remember what effect that it had on my grandmother and aunts having grown up, having just borderline enough to eat, and having every piece of food counted and assigned.

I also had a very selfish reason. I have a hard time staying home all day. Volunteering gave me a good excuse to get out, and not feel I was compromising other’s health for nothing. It was eerie to bike in the streets of Cambridge with no traffic or people around.”

What makes this volunteer experience a meaningful use of your time?

“It gives me something to do with my hands. My work is mostly writing code and in my head. A good change!”

What is the biggest personal benefit you receive as a volunteer with your organization?

“In addition to the perfect excuse to be out, I meet many great people, who I am happy to see again and again.”

What is the most memorable accomplishment of your volunteer experience?

“Ripping up cardboard boxes was a liberating and very satisfying experience!”

David Lhowe

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David Lhowe is a recently retired surgeon and longtime resident of Cambridge. He volunteered overseas with medical teams in the past, but wanted to work more locally, and this was what brought him to Food For Free. What he finds most important about this volunteering experience is being able to provide a little help to our community, which makes it easier for our homebound neighbors to obtain good quality food. 

He personally finds the brief but regular contact with the residents to whom he delivers the most meaningful. Volunteering close to home can make our city just a bit more of a caring community.

We thank David for his dedication!

Caleb Noble

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In addition to Food For Free, my favorite activities cooking/baking, singing, and ice skating. Currently I am a senior at MIT studying computer science, but what I really enjoy is working as a teaching assistant and getting to lead classes. I had worked in food pantries back home in Montana, and I wanted to keep up the practice – especially since I felt I spent too much time on my computer and needed to do something useful with my hands. Food For Free definitely fit the bill, and I get to make a positive impact, make new friends, and most importantly help people in the community to get fresh produce.

The biggest personal benefit that I get is an opportunity to do something meaningful outside of my house – a break from zoom with the added benefit of helping others!

My most memorable accomplishment at Food For Free would probably be serving as shift captain and helping organize the volunteers so we could produce over 300 boxes of food in under an hour and a half.  I also got my personal record of assembling boxes in under 3 seconds per box :D.

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” — Muhammad Ali

Lili Porten

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I taught first-year college writing classes.

I heard about Food for Free from some friends who were volunteering, and it sounded like fun. I was attracted to the opportunity to contribute in a hands-on way to the effort to combat food insecurity. 

It’s been eye-opening to see a bit of what’s involved behind the scenes in getting food to those in need.  And it feels especially meaningful to contribute not only money but my time and energy.

Volunteering makes me feel useful, hopeful, and connected to the community. 

I’m not sure this counts as a memorable accomplishment, but I’m proud of getting better at making boxes! :)

Food is love! 

Johnny Yang

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Johnny works at early-stage technology companies, but in his “spare time,” packs food with Food for Free and mentors/coaches students at a local university. 

He was motivated to volunteer at the beginning of the pandemic when he realized that food pantry options were limited for those in need.  He felt Food for Free was the best positioned to spring into action to help so when he heard there was a chance to lend a hand to support the new home delivery and school lunch programs, he leapt at the opportunity to get involved.  Two things makes this volunteer experience a meaningful use of Johnny’s time. First, hearing the stories from the delivery drivers who interact with the clients we serve.  The other is the wonderful group of fellow volunteers and FFF staff that he has gotten to know.  He believes they all share a common passion to support our neighbors, and he finds it very inspiring to work alongside these folks.

The biggest personal benefit Johnny thinks he receives as a volunteer with Food For Free is Perspective.  He says it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in one’s own personal bubbles.  “Volunteering with FFF has helped me gain a better perspective about our community and the role that each of us can play within it” 

Johnny’s most memorable accomplishment of his volunteer experience is using 50 lb bags of potatoes and onions in place of his gym workout.  :)   But on a more serious note:  he would say being able to pack and deliver food for almost 2000 Cambridge families in 1 week during the COVID grocery delivery program- what a feat! 

A quote that summarizes his perspective on food justice is one by Dr MLK Jr “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” 

We thank Johnny for his commitment to Food For Free! He volunteers regularly as a Home Delivery Packer and we appreciate all he does. Thank you, Johnny!

Bryan Doran

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What you did prior to Food For Free, could be your occupation, hobbies (anything you are comfortable sharing)?

“Pre-COVID, I worked for a brewery doing a lot of different jobs: sales, marketing, regulatory, test brewing, quality control, compliance, logistics, and social media.”

What motivated you to volunteer with your Food For Free?

“My wife and I have supported Food For Free’s School Backpack program for a few years. As I was unemployed, I wanted to help in our community and when I heard from Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon and Kennedy Longfellow School Family Liaison Nancy Wyse that Food For Free was going to be distributing school lunch, I jumped at the chance to help.”

What makes this volunteer experience a meaningful use of your time?

“I started on March 19th of last year and everyday I am happy to see people from my community get something that makes their lives a bit easier. There is so much food insecurity and housing insecurity and I get to be a part of a solution to reduce it. My community is full of really friendly people and it has been good to get to know them over the last year.”

What is the biggest personal benefit you receive as a volunteer with your organization?

“A way to help out my community directly and meaningfully.”

What is the most memorable accomplishment of your volunteer experience?

“Being there during the horizontal rain and snow storms to make sure we take care of our people. The people coming to the site always are super thankful but in bad weather, they are extra appreciative.”

A quote ( or saying) that summarizes your perspective on volunteering or food justice

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt