While working on a class project about the Bellingham Food Bank, Senior Alex McIntyre became inspired to change the course of his life.
McIntyre said he never saw himself becoming a volunteer prior to his research report, but after seeing what was going on behind the scenes at the food bank, he felt inclined to get involved. He said he was able to realize how serious the issue of food access was, which sparked his interest in food waste.
“Being a food justice advocate, I have a voice for marginalized communities; those that are underprivileged,” McIntyre said. “Because I feel like I am privileged, I can give back a little bit more.”
After doing his report, McIntyre spoke to Bellingham Food Bank Operations Manager Drew Butler about volunteering.
McIntyre’s first position at the food bank was helping with “grocery rescue missions,” which involved picking up groceries from different stores before they get thrown out and bringing them back to the food bank to be distributed.
He quickly wanted to become more involved and started to help distribute food, and recently became involved with the Bellingham Food Bank’s Garden Project as a mentor.
The Garden Project is a program run by the food bank in which volunteers help develop and maintain garden beds for low-income families.
“We provide all the resources for the first year and build the garden bed,” McIntyre said. “[As a mentor] I’ll provide any assistance, whether that is any questions they have or going to help them plant.”
McIntyre said he wants to see more home gardens in Bellingham and for the city to use its space more efficiently. He said the city should have more programs that resemble The Outback Farm at Western, where he also volunteers on Sundays.
“I think food can be free or really cheap, we can grow our own food. It’s just changing our perception and working together,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre has shifted his focus of study away from business and marketing, and now studying urban planning, sustainable development and ecotourism.
As a member of Students for Sustainable Food, an on-campus club, McIntyre is working to encourage Western to cut its contract with their current provider for dining hall food, Aramark, and transition to a self operated system.
He is hosting a workshop at Western on Wednesday, May 10, to help raise awareness that the dining hall is not the only option for students, and that they can instead utilize resources like the food bank.
“A lot of freshmen and sophomores are forced to eat within their meal plans,” McIntyre said. “I think that’s not OK, especially when they can use the food bank.”
McIntyre said the food bank has a lot more nutritious food than what is being offered at the dining hall. He wants to help bridge the gap between Western students and the food bank, and encourage more students to pursue healthier food choices.
“Being a food justice advocate, I have a voice for marginalized communities; those that are underprivileged. Because I feel like I am privileged, I can give back a little bit more.”
Alex McIntyre, senior
He has recently been offered a temporary staff position at the food bank, which he says he will most likely accept when he graduates in the spring.
“I would love working there, but I know it is a nonprofit and they rely on the volunteers, so right now I’m fine with just volunteering,” McIntyre said.
Butler said while the food bank only has nine staff members, they have over 180 volunteers on a weekly basis.
“We try to do the best work that we can, and it really wouldn’t be possible without the help of the volunteers,” Butler said.
Although he is only on the schedule for Mondays, McIntyre said, he is normally at the food bank at least two days a week, if not more.
McIntyre also volunteers and is a member at the Community Food Co-op, where he was named volunteer of the year for 2016.
Before McIntyre got involved with the food bank, he was working at a clothing retail store where he felt he was moving up the ladder, but wasn’t happy.
Comparing working in retail and volunteering at the food bank, McIntyre said his volunteer work is much more fulfilling and has given him the opportunity to meet countless people that he considers great friends.
“The relationships I’ve built [are] more important to me than the amount of money I have in my pocket,” McIntyre said.
For students wanting to volunteer at the good bank, Butler said the first step is to fill out an application, which helps the food bank staff place volunteers in positions they are most likely to succeed.
Since they usually don’t have positions available immediately, Butler said he encourages volunteers to start as a substitute, which gives them an opportunity to try out working different positions before being put on the schedule.
“I don’t know if I will be in Bellingham forever, but as long as I’m in Bellingham, I see myself volunteering there,” McIntyre said.
The food bank is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. during weekdays.