Etched into the concrete sidewalk outside the Greater Boston Food Bank’s main entrance is the letter “X”—a nod to the Great Depression era when people would mark an “X” on the sidewalk outside of their homes to signal to passersby that their house was a safe place to get help. Kip Tiernan, who in 1974 started what is now known as the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), witnessed this act of kindness by her grandmother and carried its meaning over to the GBFB—signaling that the nonprofit is a safe haven for all.
These days, the GBFB is the largest hunger relief organization in New England, serving some 140,000 people each month throughout eastern Massachusetts. In January, about 20 Boston Financial Investment Management (BFIM) employees signed up to volunteer for a half-day shift, sorting pasta, cereal, canned goods and other food items and readying the provisions for distribution.
“It’s always a fun experience to get out of the office with your co-workers and do something to help the community,” says Eric Rosenthal, Capital Transactions Analyst for BFIM. “The Greater Boston Food Bank was an opportunity I especially enjoyed because we were directly supporting the community that we live in.”
The team worked so well together, in fact, that they packed 17,516 pounds of food, equaling 14,596 meals.
“I grew up in a developing country and saw the impact of helping and volunteering at an early stage of my life,” says Ali Abdullah, BFIM’s Assistant Vice President of Capital Transactions. “Therefore, I always strive to give back.”
It’s the generosity of employees like Ali and the whole BFIM team that allowed the GBFB to provide the equivalent of about 48 million meals last year from its massive 117,000-square-foot facility in South Boston.
“It’s phenomenal the amount of food that’s in the warehouse,” says Trevor Johnson, Vice President of Asset Management for BFIM. “It makes you realize just how many families are being serviced by the organization, which is amazing but also saddening at the same time.”
Within the GBFB’s service territory, about 1 in 10 people are what the organization refers to as “food insecure”—meaning they don’t know where they are getting their next meal from. Of that number, about 1 in 7 are children. By partnering with 530 agencies—including food pantries, soup kitchens, senior programs, daycare centers and meal programs—the GBFB is a critical component to the area’s emergency food network, supplying on average about 80 percent of the food these agencies serve.
While the GBFB purchases about half of its food supply, the other half is donated from places like major retailers and manufacturers, or received through food drives—and that’s where the help of volunteers comes in handy to help sort through all of the goods.
“Last year, we had about 24,000 volunteers who came in, and overall, they sorted the equivalent of about 5 million meals,” says Stephanie Nichols, Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the GBFB. “Volunteers have a tremendous impact on us and those we serve.”
Helping hands are always welcome: A typical shift is four hours long, and the GBFB makes it easy for anyone interested to sign up or contribute online.
While the BFIM bunch enjoyed their experience at the GBFB, it’s not the only organization where they’ve left their mark: About every three months, Ali volunteers at Community Servings, a nonprofit that delivers medically tailored meals to Massachusetts residents with critical and chronic illnesses, while Trevor finds time to volunteer with rescue dogs when he can.
Outside of work and volunteering, Ali, Trevor and Eric each have their own passions. Trevor can be found skiing any time he gets the chance, and Ali serves as the captain of the Boston Racquet Club’s Squash team. An avid fitness enthusiast, Eric is often at the gym, but he’s picked up a new hobby after traveling to Italy last September: teaching himself Italian.
“It lit a fire in me after I saw how people in other countries can often speak more than one language, whereas most people in the U.S. only speak English,” Eric says.
Whether they’re giving back, breaking a sweat or hitting the slopes, the trio agrees that the day spent at the Greater Boston Food Bank was one to remember.
“When you know where your next meal is coming from, you sometimes don’t realize how unfortunate other people are,” Trevor says. “After you’re exposed to people who don’t know where they’re going to get their next meal, it makes you realize how lucky you are and become more appreciative of what you have.”