2021 Empty Bowls Volunteer Honoree: Brad Sweeney
Volunteers are the heartbeat of Arkansas Foodbank and each year, volunteers save the Foodbank hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead of paying employees, that funding goes directly into ensuring our neighbors have food to feed their families. At the onset of the pandemic, volunteers were more valuable than ever because our pantries were pausing operations to keep their workers safe while the need quickly escalated throughout our communities. More people thane ever before were in search of food assistance, meaning the Foodbank experienced a swift rise in demand, almost overnight.
In late 2019, Brad Sweeney found himself with some extra free time and was looking for a way to give back. His previous employer supported Feeding America on a national level, so it felt natural to him to find a member food bank where he could volunteer – which is how he found Arkansas Foodbank. He shared that his plan was to volunteer only one morning every week, but as he began to understand about the local need, the more time he gave. By early 2020, he was volunteering several days a week doing whatever he could to assist the staff, mostly providing support for the volunteer engagement team. However, when the pandemic hit last March, and the need increased exponentially, he gave even more time to help meet the rapidly rising demand for food assistance.
526 hours later, Brad became a staple for the Foodbank’s volunteer team. Racking up the most hours served by any volunteer in 2020, the Foodbank considers itself lucky to have had Brad’s continuous support last year even when we lost a huge amount of volunteers. Brad reflects “While my motivation certainly was to help others, I was surprised to find that I too was the beneficiary of the experience. My involvement at the Foodbank led to new friendships, learning of new skills, as well as a sense of satisfaction of helping Arkansans in need. It was remarkable what a positive impact it had on my life.”
When asked what his volunteer experience has taught him, Brad shared that he was shocked by how much food insecurity exists in Arkansas. “The thing that really was an education to me were the people that don’t know where their next meal will come from – they’re our neighbors. People from all backgrounds are making decisions like whether to pay the utility bill or buy food, pay for medications or feed the family. That’s not what my preconception was prior to volunteering here. I learned that the mission of the Foodbank is not just admirable – it’s absolutely necessary.”
Brad now works on staff with the Foodbank as our Food Donations Coordinator and eats lunch every day in the Volunteer Operations Center. “I never really imagined that I would be on staff here,” said Brad. “To be part of this incredible team of people working endlessly to fight hunger is unbelievably humbling. There isn’t a single moment of the day that I’m not immensely aware of the importance of the work that happens here.
Brad is one of many honorees that will be celebrated at our 19th Annual Empty Bowls event. Those selected were chosen because they brought new life to our mission this past year as they filled the empty bowls of our hungry neighbors amidst the pandemic.
Learn more about our 19th Annual Empty Bowls Event >> click here.