A Long-time FamilyWorks Volunteer Shares Her Story

18.5 years ago, Shelly Sundberg was looking for a place to volunteer while her children were small. She discovered FamilyWorks and when her children were both in elementary school, they started volunteering with their mother.  Now her kids are 22 and 24 and they still come back every year to volunteer with friends and family on the day after Christmas in the food bank.

Sundberg, who has a demanding job at the Gates Foundation working as a Nutrition Senior Program Officer finds volunteering at FamilyWorks a great change of pace from her hectic day job. She travels every month for about 1.5 weeks, often to multiple destinations.  This past year she traveled to 20 different destinations! But she always manages to volunteer at the food bank when she is in town.

“They call me the closer,” she laughs.

And that’s because she usually shows up after work, towards the end of the food bank hours, and jumps in to help the staff clean up and close down.

She’s been involved in so many ways at FamilyWorks. She was on the board for several years and was even the President back in 2002. For a few years she delivered food to some people who lived in between the Fremont and Wallingford neighborhoods. This was incredibly eye-opening for her and reinforced the reality that hunger was an invisible problem and yet it existed right in her own neighborhood.

Shelly and Jake

Shelly and Jake

At some point, around 15 years ago, Sundberg decided she wanted to give the food bank staff a day off around the Christmas holidays.  She brought her family and friends to run the food bank on a day when it was open to participants and has been doing it ever since.

“I wanted my kids to see more of just their own lives and I believe it is important to give back.”

And it’s a big crowd of helpers:  Sundberg’s two children, her sisters and their children, four cousins, and a handful of friends. All in all, about 15 people show up at the food bank ready to make a difference.

Some of Shelly's family and friends

Some of Shelly’s family and friends

Starting kids early in community service has an impact in their later years: Sundberg’s daughter regularly volunteers in the community and Sundberg believes those early years at the food bank really influenced her.

Being at the food bank was an incredible time of learning for her kids, she said.  They witnessed situations at the food bank that created opportunities for discussion at home about some difficult topics.

As a volunteer, Sundberg was often the first point of contact for some of the participants. She recalled that people came to the food bank for all kinds of reasons and being there often brought up feelings for them.  Sundberg remembered a woman who was a teacher, saying angrily, “I shouldn’t be here– I am not like the rest of these people.”

“The community is very diverse and full of all sorts of people.  We need to be sensitive to where people are at in their lives,” she said.

Sundberg said that when she sees a participant who has not been there for a long time, she knows they are really struggling.

“I feel a tug in my heart,” she said.

Do you have a story about a volunteer experience you’ve had at FamilyWorks? Tell us about it! Email Elizabeth Ralston at elizabethr@familyworksseattle.org.

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