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Help Yourself

Delivering food for the body — and the soul

Brian Feulner for the Boston Globe

Kathy Rogers loads her truck with food and gifts.

Figure out your passion,’’ advises Kathy Rogers. “What is it? Kids? The elderly? Animals? Cancer research?

“Once you figure it out, then the volunteering part is easy,’’ she explains, “and the time commitment doesn’t have to be that much. Agencies recognize that and they will find what works for you.’’

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Rogers, manager of employee communications and community relations at Philips Medical Systems in Andover, speaks from experience. Ten years ago, one day was all she intended to volunteer when she signed up to help at the Merrimack Valley Food Bank in Lowell as part of the United Way Day of Caring, which links volunteers with agencies.

“But after I did it, I really enjoyed it, so I kept going monthly,’’ says Rogers.

Now she’s part of the agency’s mobile food pantry, delivering groceries midday to 14 clients who are homebound, elderly, or have medical conditions that prevent them from shopping for themselves. Like clockwork, every third Tuesday of the month, the vivacious 46-year old Billerica resident leaves work around 11:30 a.m. Driving her own truck first to the food bank, Rogers helps load it, then makes the deliveries in an efficient two hours before returning to her full-time job.

Each client, she explains, receives three bags: one each of nonperishables, frozen fruit and vegetables, and the fresh variety. For holidays like Thanksgiving, clients get an extra bag filled with all the products to create a special meal, such as a turkey, stuffing mix, and gravy. For Rogers, however, the mobile food pantry isn’t about efficient delivery of food to those in need.

“I’ve developed relationships with the people,’’ she says. “Some I sit with. One client is going blind. We chat. I have her feel each product before we put it away.’’

The relationships formed are real.

“I’ve gone to the wakes and funerals of some clients. Some I would see more often than my own family,’’ she adds.

A single mother, Rogers admits her time is tight, working full time and raising her daughter Jessie, 15. She credits her employer with supporting her work with the food bank. “I do this on company time because Philips has a commitment to sustainability, so it allows employees to do this kind of volunteerism,’’ she says.

The practice of good corporate citizenship, she adds, also pays back, with increased employee pride and deeper employee engagement. But for Rogers, who also volunteers with dog shelters and has fostered more than 100 dogs in the past seven years, there’s a more personal reason to volunteer.

“Adults should be good leaders for kids,’’ she says. “They’re our next generation. I’m one of those who truly believe, if not you, then who?’’

To volunteer at the Merrimack Valley Food Bank, call 978-454-7272, or go to mvfb.org. Kathy Shiels Tully can be reached at kathyshielstully@gmail.com.
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