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.

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