Volunteer Relations with the Vashon Food Bank
Harvest for Vashon volunteer outreach has taken on many different forms over the last two years, and a consistent factor to account for is the unique profile of island neighbors. The island has a population of 10,000, most of whom are elderly residents and young families. The primary outreach effort with consistent success has been relying on social media to promote volunteer events and general opportunities. Those posts generally garner the response of the younger island crowd. To get the attention of the retired folks on the island, traditional flyers are posted at beloved island coffee shops, grocery stores, and public areas like the library and post office. Fun graphics featuring colorful fruits, vegetables, and farmers designed with free online software are eye-catching and draw viewers in, where they can read a short advertisement for volunteers and how to find more information.
Harvest for Vashon connects with local schools, farmers, and gardeners to facilitate events big and small. Making a connection with a leader of people is key to harnessing bigger groups of volunteers that complete enormous tasks in a short period of time. The leader of the local cub scout pack and a teacher at the public elementary school have been excellent sources for recruitment, as they are actively looking for hands-on activities to engage excited kids with. Having a volunteer plan in place is crucial to answering questions during the recruitment process, particularly when parents are giving permission for their children to volunteer.
During initial engagement with potential volunteers, the VISTA solicits data to inform what the participant is interested in helping with, and what they are capable of. Volunteer screening ensures that participants are matched with a task they are likely to enjoy, and therefore stick with. Harvest for Vashon solicits three primary types of volunteers and seeks to retain them by providing a rewarding volunteer experience. Gleaning volunteers are likely to participate again if they enjoy being outside, have the right equipment, and feel welcome to the property they are harvesting from. Grow-a-Row volunteers have proved the easiest to engage, and the hardest to retain. Working on their own time in their own gardens, Harvest asks that they dedicate a row or raised bed to the food bank. Staying in constant communication with these growers ensures that they feel valued and are gently held accountable for their commitment. The “touch without an ask” practice helps them feel connected and valued. It works by interrupting the constant flow of asks for help with a simple email that thanks volunteers. This keeps the communication channels open and makes participants feel appreciated. The final kind of volunteers participating in Harvest for Vashon are Food Action Network volunteers, who come from different island organizations for one hour a month to share information on their programs, and what barriers they face when providing free food to folks.
Harvest for Vashon relies on two big structures to facilitate volunteer appreciation. Once a year, the Vashon Food Bank holds an annual volunteer appreciation party with food, drinks, awards, games, and prizes. Community and a sense of purpose permeate the festivities, and give volunteers a chance to make new connections with each other. The second is by sending personal, hand-written thank you cards to everyone who made the effort possible, with details of their help or donation included where possible.