Like breathing air, food items are brought in and carried out of the Heartland Food Reservoir on their way to the area's food pantries to feed its neediest citizens — and much of that work is done by volunteers.
The food bank has a warehouse man and a truck driver who are paid. They do a lot of work each day, but they simply can't do it all, said Mary Foy, the vice chairwoman of the Heartland Food Reservoir's board of directors.
Three friends and former coworkers, Carol Bogdan, Billie Hetherton and Foy, who all worked together at the Highlands County Human Services office before they retired, have reunited and volunteer their time at the food bank.
Foy is filling in for the regular office manager, who broke her leg. Bogdan is doing the book-keeping and Hetherton is helping keep records and moving stock in the warehouse, contributing more than 100 hours per week combined.
However, more volunteers are desperately needed, Foy said Monday. Right now there are roughly five volunteers doing much of the work.
"I need at least that many more," she said. "You see, it's hard to say how many you really need because it depends how many hours they're willing to work. I need at least two people here all day every day. If we had a pool of 20 volunteers we could schedule them very easily without overtaxing anybody."
Fifteen more volunteers would be an ideal situation, she said.
Volunteers primarily sort foods, discard damaged or outdated items, box foods, stock shelves and put certain foods into a freezer or refrigerator. Some volunteers may be asked to perform general duties like dusting, emptying wastebaskets and cleaning.
Foy said she could also use a little office assistance, such as filing, data entry, making copies and answering telephones.
Jon Foy Jr., 20, of Sebring, is home from the University of Florida where he is majoring in Food and Resource Economics.
"I've drafted him when he's available," said his mom, Mary Foy.
He has helped out at the food bank stocking, sorting and whatever else is needed since mid-June. He also helped when it first opened two years ago in March.
"It gives me kind of an insight into the grocery business," he said. "It's for a good cause. I had a difficult time finding an internship in an area like this. It's a good experience."
The work is not terribly difficult, he said, adding he has youth going for him. A lot of it is just moving things around, he said.
Jon Jr. is also kind of the computer technology guy.
They couldn't network properly, so he helped set things up so they could share documents, he said. He recently set up a Facebook page for them, too.
As far as computer programs are concerned, they could use a donation of Microsoft Office, he said. Plus they could use a webmaster to volunteer his or her time, he said.
A computer with Excel in the warehouse to track the loads in and out, or even a laptop they could carry from the office would make their jobs a lot easier, he said.
"Jon's very willing to come help us whenever we need him," said Hetherton.
They are starting to get loads of fresh produce in, so they are looking to get with local growers to meet national efforts to eat more healthy foods that are locally sourced.
Last week alone, the Food Reservoir received in excess of 14,000 pounds of food including fresh peaches, pears, milk, juice, meat and miscellaneous grocery items, which had to be sorted and stored appropriately, prior to being distributed to the area's 20 food pantries it serves that feed the needy.
Potential volunteers can receive more information by calling the Heartland Food Reservoir at (863) 382-8900 and setting up an appointment to tour the facility.
For more information, call the Heartland Food Reservoir at (863) 382-8900