Walking a Mile in Each Other’s Shoes

Volunteer Spotlight: Sue Johnson

I met Sue about a year ago at my first warehouse Pull Order day, along with about 25 other volunteers. I didn’t know a lot of volunteer names; only a few familiar faces from my time volunteering with the program before I assumed my role as Executive Director in 2018. I soon learned that Sue, like other “veteran” volunteers, had a regular spot in the warehouse. She took up her station by the Dinty Moore products, green beans and peas and carrots. For many months, I associated volunteers with their “regular” food item section to help me learn their names. I got to see Sue’s work up close because she was positioned in front of the conveyor belt where all the food gets placed before it reaches the end of the line for final counting and sorting. Soft spoken, Sue was always focused, making sure each order was accurate when she placed it on the line.   

After a full year with the BackPack Weekend Food Program (BWFP), I don’t need to use the food item association tool to help with names. I know our volunteers and adore all of them, each with their own distinct personalities and their shared passion for the children we serve.

Sue has become a dear volunteer to me and is also our primary contact for First Presbyterian Church-Belmont, BWFP’s partner for East Gaston High School. Sue has first-hand knowledge of the hunger issue among students in Gaston County; she retired as a teacher from Lowell Elementary School in 2014. Sue loved teaching but felt it was time to retire so she could do things she couldn’t do working full-time, such as volunteering. She told me a lot about how she spends retirement, much of which is through volunteering for the BWFP, Habitat for Humanity and her church. I asked Sue to choose her favorite place to meet for our “interview.” In true Sue fashion, she suggested we walk and talk at Seven Oaks Preserve in Belmont. For about two hours on a Friday afternoon, Sue and I exchanged life stories, empathized over similar back problems and connected on a deeper level over our passion for serving others.

Sue was instrumental in getting First Presbyterian Belmont on board as a partner with the BWFP. She heard about the program through an acquaintance at church and was the chair of the mission ministry at the time. Sue reached out to the BWFP founder and decided to volunteer at the warehouse to get a deep dive understanding of the operation. That was four years ago, and she’s still volunteering today. Staying busy and connected with people is important to Sue, although she said after our hike that she was looking forward to some “down” time.

In addition to volunteering, Sue has started raising Monarch butterflies at home. She explained that these beautiful creatures are nearly on the endangered species list due to land development resulting in a loss of their habitat and milkweed food sources, heightened use of pesticides and climate change. She got interested in Monarch butterflies after some research and is now teaching others about the breeding process and takes milkweed to Lowell Elementary where students get hands-on breeding experience. The Monarch Butterfly is referred by many as the most beautiful butterfly or the “king of butterflies,” thus, acquiring the name “Monarch.” Monarch butterflies go through four generations each year.

What I found most fascinating about the Monarch is that each year, the fourth generation travels up to 2,500 miles, about 100 miles each day, from Canada and parts of the US to the same location where their ancestors went using their own internal GPS. Both Sue and I agreed that this is nothing short of miracle of Mother Nature.

I think we can learn a lot from Sue and the Monarch butterfly. Like Monarchs, Sue has strength and determination to pursue her goals, which tend to focus a lot on helping others. She has an innate instinct to appreciate the beauty surrounding her, hence her love for nature and hiking. But I believe Sue appreciates a beauty that extends beyond the physical; rather, a beauty that can only be seen through the heart. Thank you, Sue, for finding it within yourself to follow your passion by encouraging others to find a similar path and purpose in life.


 Are you a business looking for an opportunity to give back to your community? This is your chance. Every month through the end of the school year, the BackPack Weekend Food Program (BWFP) is opening up its warehouse to local businesses to volunteer their time with a “HungerTakeover” day. Get a behind-the-scenes access pass to the BWFP operation and a chance to pull up your sleeves to help others in need. There is something transformative about being able to touch the food that goes into a backpack and knowing you are making a difference in a child’s life.

 In addition to a hands-on experience at our warehouse, we want to tell our community about the great work you are doing! Join us in cross-promoting your “HungerTakeover” day on social media. Feel free to post photos and information about your business and employees on Facebook and Instagram using hashtag: #HungerTakeover2019-20. Your volunteers will also walk away with a t-shirt and promo video!


Senator Harrington Visits BackPack Warehouse

Senator Kathy Harrington visited the BackPack Weekend Food Program (BWFP) warehouse on Tuesday to personally thank volunteers with the program and roll up her sleeves to help pull food orders for nearly 800 students. Each month during the school year, volunteers assemble at the BWFP warehouse to organize food items for partners to pick up. Partners represent churches, local businesses, households and community groups. Partners take food items from the warehouse once a month, pack individual food bags and deliver to students at schools each week to take home on the weekend.

Like other nonprofits, the BWFP is sustainable because of its more than 500 volunteers scattered throughout Gaston County who support the program through packing, delivering food and generous financial giving.

“Indispensable to the BWFP program are its volunteers and countless volunteer hours committed to making sure students in need have enough food to eat on the weekend,” said Dallas Butler, Executive Director. “The number of volunteers’ hands that touch the food items before they ever reach the hands of our students is a remarkable testimony to the abundance of kindness in this community. We are so grateful to Senator Harrington and many others who have a heart for this program and the students’ lives it is impacting.” 

The BWFP provides nutritious weekend meals to students K-12 in Gaston County Schools. Between 800 to 1,000 students receive food on the weekend through the program during the school year.