Food Bank volunteer discusses the impact and importance of serving others

40 Faces of 40 Years Patty Suarez (middle) volunteering at a mobile pantry with Foodies members.

Photo: Patty Suarez (middle) volunteering at a mobile pantry with Foodies members.

Patty Suarez knew that after she retired from Creighton University nearly ten years ago, she would need something to fill her time. One day she saw an advertisement for the Food Bank in her mailbox, and she’s never looked back since. “The brochure was for the Foodies (a Food Bank Guild) asking if I was interested in joining. I thought it sounded fun, and I certainly had the time.”

Patty quickly found herself in a new group at the Food Bank. “I started volunteering once a week and encouraged some of my friends to do it. We had a really nice group, and it was so rewarding. It just made you feel good, like you’re doing something purposeful. Plus, it’s physical activity, which is good, too.”

However, once COVID hit, her volunteer routine quickly dissipated. But Patty soon found another way to serve Heartland neighbors, while practicing safety guidelines. She was introduced to the Food Bank’s Mobile Pantry Program—which grew in popularity during the pandemic.“ A group of us volunteer at the Harrison Street Baptist Church twice a month on Saturday mornings. Not only is it physical, but we’re out there whether it’s zero or 100 degrees.”

Despite the physical labor and extreme weather, Patty wouldn’t be anywhere else. “You see a kid in the car seat, and think ‘Oh my gosh, this child may not have enough to eat.’ This box of canned goods and fresh produce could make the difference in whether this child eats.” Patty says seeing the faces of people experiencing hunger has humbled her. “I didn’t realize how fortunate I am, and it makes me appreciate it more. It’s amazing that here in Nebraska, the country’s food basket, there are people who don’t have food. It’s an eye-opener, that’s for sure.”

Patty also loves that the mobile pantry provides an opportunity for her to go beyond physically helping neighbors in need. “I ask the folks if there’s anyone you want me to pray for. For me, it’s not just handing out food, it’s a spiritual experience. I pray ahead of time and then ask if they want me to pray for a member of their family.”

Patty has also played a special role in the Food Bank’s BackPack Program. She and her fellow Foodies deliver gifts to the metro-area teachers involved. “At the end of the school year, we thank them for helping us, and they say to us, ‘You have no idea what this program does for each child.’ It’s amazing how many kids we’re serving. It’s in schools throughout Omaha, Council Bluffs, Bellevue, Papillion, and all over. I never realized that. That’s probably one of the biggest eye-openers for me.”

For those looking to get involved, Patty says there’s plenty of opportunity at the Food Bank. “It’s an easy place to volunteer and have a hands-on experience. And the staff is so welcoming. If you’re a first-timer you never feel intimidated or lost. Everything is very organized and purposeful. Plus, you get to see the results of your labor.”

Patty says it’s the feeling of selflessness that has the most impact on her. “It just makes you feel good, like you’re doing something for someone besides yourself. And I think that’s the most important thing.”