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Food Bank aided by many from MIT

(During the United Way campaign that runs through December 29, Tech Talk will periodically print updates on the fund-raising progress, as well as profiles of MIT community members who volunteer for agencies that receive funds from United Way of Massachusetts Bay.)

Though many people at MIT do volunteer work on an individual basis, some Alumni Association staff members have found even more satisfaction-and fun-in volunteering as a team.

Association staff members and representatives of several other MIT organizations have lent a hand at the Greater Boston Food Bank. On Saturday morning, Dec. 2, several dozen members of the MIT community from the Association, Resource Development, Delta Tau Delta and Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) fraternities will be on hand to sort through donated food, preparing it for pickup by homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

"Working together this way builds team spirit," said Association Program Manager Amy Schrom, who is her office's chief solicitor for this year's United Way campaign and a veteran of many volunteer trips to the Food Bank. "It's good for the Association to get together on a Saturday and do this sort of thing." The upcoming trip by 15 people from her office will be the fifth since last January.

Food bank volunteers are trained in sorting large volumes of mostly prepackaged food that are dropped off by area supermarkets, manufacturers, wholesalers and others (more than 500 providers contribute a total of 9 million pounds per year). As items go by on a conveyer belt, volunteers discard broken packages or anything that might be spoiled. They look for cans with dented seams, unsealed jar lids or products that are past their expiration dates. "They're very dedicated to making sure they're providing safe food," Ms. Schrom explained. The items are then sorted by category and taken to an adjacent warehouse for pickup.

"Everyone who's gone has echoed what a rewarding volunteer experience it is," said Audrey Ellis Saracco, program coordinator for the Association. "It's amazing how productive the Food Bank makes your time."

The Greater Boston Food Bank serves as a clearinghouse for 735 member agencies that provide food directly to 225,000 people each month. Those agencies include day-care centers, senior programs, detoxification centers and mental health programs as well as soup kitchens and shelters. The Food Bank also operates Second Helping, a joint project with the Boston College Alumni Association that shuttles more than 500,000 pounds of cooked surplus food from restaurants and hotels directly to soup kitchens and shelters.

Ten to 15 ATO members also volunteer every two to three weeks at the Food Bank. "You gain a real sense of accomplishment when you realize how much food you have sorted in just a few short hours, and the impact that that will have on hungry families," said Jason Nogueira, ATO co-chairman for community service. "In addition, the Food Bank is set up so you meet many other people from different organizations all with the same goal of helping the hungry. This friendly interaction is one of the most enjoyable aspects of volunteering there." Last April, ATO won the Food Bank's Volunteer of the Month award for devising a more efficient way of filling snack bags for Walk for Hunger participants.

Many other groups from MIT have volunteered at the Food Bank just since September, including Alpha Phi, Alpha Pi Omega, Hunger Action, Phi Beta Epsilon, Student Pugwash and the Sloan School of Management, as well as the four that will work there on December 2. An e-mail invitation through an informal network of volunteer groups has elicited inquiries from other groups as well, Ms. Saracco added. Some of the people involved have also given their time to organizations that deliver the Food Bank's products to the people that need them. "It fosters a real sense of community, very much in the spirit of the United Way campaign," Ms. Schrom said.

Groups from several other Boston-area colleges and universities regularly work at the Food Bank, "and MIT is a strong one," said Carole Wegman, the organization's volunteer program manager. The Food Bank relies heavily on volunteers, who put in a total of almost 2,500 hours each month. "I can't stress enough the importance of the people and what they do here," she said.

The atmosphere is very relaxed while volunteers go about their work; "we listen to the radio and everyone's laughing and talking," Ms. Schrom said. "The time goes by really quickly. For me, volunteering at the Food Bank feels almost selfish because I get so much out of it."


United Way notes

As of Monday, Nov. 27, 240 members of the MIT community had pledged or donated $48,142 to the United Way, putting the campaign at 15 percent of its $322,000 goal. There have also been nine Leadership Givers donating at least $1,000 apiece.

An Institute-wide clothing drive to collect winter clothes, household items, toys, etc., will be held December 4-8. The tentative drop-off locations will be Lobby 7, the E18-E19 lobby at 50 Ames St., the Sloan School (first floor near elevators), the Medical Department atrium (Building E23-E25), Walker Memorial lobby, Stratton Student Center (first floor near The Source), and the United Way campaign headquarters in Rm 20A-023. Donated items will go to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, Shelter, Inc., and Cambridge Family and Children's Services. "Wish lists" from these agencies will be posted at each drop-off location and sent to the campaign's chief solicitors.

There will also be a bake sale on Thursday, December 7, in Lobby 7 under the United Way banner beginning at 11:30 am until the food runs out. Chief solicitors have been asked to provide items for sale, and others who wish to donate baked goods are welcome to do so.

Employees who don't know who their chief solicitor is may send the pledge forms directly to United Way campaign headquarters in the Office of Special Community Services, Rm 20A-023. Call x3-7914 with questions.


United Way spends little in fundraising

The United Way of Massachusetts Bay spent the smallest proportion of its donations on fund-raising itself in 1994, according to a report on 237 charitable campaigns run in Massachusetts last year.

The document, released by the state attorney general's office and reported in the November 21 issue of The Boston Globe, found that UWMB spent just 5.8 percent of its total contributions on fund-raising efforts. Many other charities spent several times that amount, thus reducing the percentage that eventually goes to the cause for which the money was intended. Some charities in the report, notably those that employ a soliciting firm to raise money, received less than 20 percent of the total amounts contributed. Most major charities don't use outside solicitors, the Globe article said.

The Council of Better Business Bureaus recommends that no more than 35 percent of total contributions should go for the cost of raising the money, the Globe noted.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 29, 1995.

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