Volunteer Spotlight

There are nearly 100 volunteers who selflessly donate their time EVERY week to serve our neighbors in need!  Below are a few of our fabulous volunteers.  Click a name below to find out more.  Check back later for more volunteer spotlights.

Andrew Breakey

Years with TLFB I started volunteering in September 2016. I came to TLFB after having a hard time finding a job. I thought volunteering would be good work experience and something I could put on my resume. And it was a way to give back to my community.

What is your volunteer role? I work in the warehouse during the Tuesday evening distribution hours, where I sort food donations into their designated boxes. I also hand out USDA food to our clients.

Why do you volunteer for TLFB? After I got a job with the state of California, i decided to keep volunteering because I love giving back and helping people in need. I also have a personal connection with TLFB because at one point in my life, my mother came to the food bank in order to feed me and my sister.

What is the best part about serving the clients? The best part is the feeling you get in knowing you’re helping out people who need food. Providing food to those in need leaves a positive impact on clients’ lives.

What is your current job outside of TLFB? I currently work for the California Prison Industry Authority as a student assistant in the accounts payable department. I am also a part-time college student pursuing a business degree with a concentration in accounting.

Hobbies or Interests? I enjoy skiing and surfing.

Aiza Suetos

How long have you been volunteering?
I started volunteering in February 2019.

What is your volunteer role?
I work in TLFB’s organic garden alongside Gerry Stone, the garden coordinator. I do everything from weed, plant, prune, water and harvest produce.

How did you hear about TLFB?
My friend and I like to knit hats and then donate them to people in need, so we chose Twin Lakes Food Bank. While looking at the website, I saw there were volunteer opportunities and decided to get involved.

What was your first impression of the garden?
It was big and beautiful, yet managed by very few people. There are a small handful of regular volunteers who work in the garden, and I’m proud to be one of them.

How do you feel about volunteering in the garden?
I grew up in the Philippines and distinctly remember a homeless woman that I would pass by on my walk to school, thinking “how can I help her?” I decided to take my one dollar allowance that was supposed to purchase my snacks at school, and give it to her so she could buy food. I think that if a person has the time, they can give their time and skill to help make someone’s day a little brighter. I enjoy volunteering at the garden, knowing that it helps a lot of less fortunate people, I feel a sense of gratitude to the hard labor that goes into the garden, which in turn grows the food that’s needed. At the end of the day, I’m glad that I can help.

Do you have any hobbies? Other organizations that you volunteer?
I love photography, knitting, wood burning memory boxes, and sewing. I’m always taking pictures in the garden and even had the opportunity to photograph last year’s TLFB Gala event; that was a new and fun experience for me.

Tell me about your family?
When I was 10 years old, my family immigrated from the Philippines to California. After getting married, my husband’s job relocated to El Dorado Hills. So, we’ve lived in Folsom since then, where we’ve raised our three sons (16, 18 and 20). My son Ryan loves working in the garden with me, and he really likes working with Gerry; he’s like a grandpa to him.

What do you wish people knew about the TLFB garden?
It takes a lot of time and energy to work a garden this size and harvest over 6000 pounds of produce in a year. I would love to see more volunteers out here, get their hands dirty and experience the satisfaction that their labor is putting healthy, organic food on the tables of people who need it the most.

Doug Johnson

How many years have you been with TLFB?
I started volunteering in Feb 2014, so I’m coming up on my five year anniversary.

What convinced you to volunteer?

While my wife and I attended Lakeside Church one Sunday, they announced a need for volunteers at the food bank. Since I had recently retired and needed something worthwhile to fill my free time, I decided to make myself available.

What exactly is your volunteer role?
I primarily manage the inventory at the 1766 sq. ft. off-site warehouse as well as regularly transport bins of food to the on-site warehouse to be sorted and stocked. I also assist staff in facilitating canned and boxed food sorting parties with company or church groups.

What is the best part about serving the clients at TLFB?
I really enjoy being able to give back to the community, to those who need help. It’s good know that I have something to offer during my retirement years. I especially enjoy it when my granddaughter, Abby, joins me to volunteer at the food bank.

What was your prior career?
I’m a retired IT professional. Prior to my IT career, I served in the Navy and then Air Force and retired as Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force.

Do you have any hobbies or other interests?
I would say my main hobby is working at TLFB. Outside of the food bank, I enjoy wood working, listening to music and watching auto/home improvement shows on TV.

Eric Norberg

Role: Pantry on Wheels Team — Food Distribution –Cardboard Management

The best part about volunteering at Twin Lakes Food Bank: “Helping the other volunteers bagging or breaking down cardboard – we can always find more things that need to be done.”

Hobbies and Interests: Golfing

Background: Retired prison guard

Eric is an amazing volunteer doing whatever is needed around the food bank. In addition to helping with food distribution and delivery to senior centers, Eric has taken ownership in managing the enormous amount of cardboard waste generated by food bank operations. He helps break down the boxes and delivers them to the recycling center. Many thanks to Eric for doing this important work at TLFB!

Ernesto Gueyger


It is no surprise that many who come to Twin Lakes have fallen on hard times. Longtime volunteer, Ernesto Gueyger, knows a thing or two about hard times and brings that understanding and compassion to the clients that he serves every Tuesday morning at the produce stand. Ernesto, the youngest of 12 siblings and raised by his single mother, grew up near the railroad tracks in downtown Sacramento, where hunger and violence were a common experience. By the age of 14, Ernesto was swept up into a life of crime, violence, drugs and alcohol. At the age of 42 and still deep in his destructive life, Ernesto’s mother, his guardian angel, passed away and rocked Ernesto to his core. Yet it would be another two years before he stopped and said, “Enough is enough.”

In 2009, Ernesto attended his first Alcohol Anonymous (AA) meeting and began the journey to sobriety. Ernesto says, “AA saved my life along with a new found relationship with God. I’m experiencing genuine mercy and forgiveness.” About the time that Ernesto moved to Orangevale and began working as a counselor at a behavior detox facility, he found the Twin Lakes Food Bank. Part of his sobriety is making amends and healing his soul, so serving food to clients with understanding and compassion is a way for Ernesto to accomplish this. With a boisterous voice and a great work ethic, Ernesto has been a produce stand regular for the last 12 years. Because of his volunteering and interacting with our grocery partners, Ernesto learned of a position at Walmart and began working in the frozen/dairy food department in 2016. His only stipulation to work there – keeping his Tuesday mornings free to serve at the food bank.

Outside of working, Ernesto’s hobbies include kayaking, collecting antiques, restoring his 1986 Buick Rio and tending a cacti garden, dedicated to his mom who grew up in Arizona. In addition to volunteering at the food bank, Ernesto helps serve community meals at a local church and spends time with his seven children and eight grandchildren. Ernesto says, “I have this redeemed and blessed life and can’t keep it to myself. When I come to the food bank and interact with the clients in need, I get to give those blessings away. There’s nothing better than that.”

Gerry Stone

Role:  Garden Supervisor

Years with Twin Lakes Food Bank:  6

The best part about volunteering at Twin Lakes: Working with other volunteers to serve.

Hobbies and Interests: Hiking and traveling

Background: Gerry served in the Navy for four years, living in Japan for two of those years. He has two grown children he raised in Folsom.

Prior or current career: Architectural Design

Gerry works in the garden year round growing fresh produce to provide to our clients. We can’t thank Gerry enough for his tireless efforts in coordinating the planting, maintenance and harvesting of nearly 80 raised garden beds.

Ilene and John Zinterhofer

Ilene and John ZinterhoferIlene and John Z are one of five volunteer couples serving at the food bank. After both of them retired from Intel in 2018 (John in maintenance and Ilene in finance), they determined to find a place to serve and give back to the community. For Ilene, it did not take long to decide that Twin Lakes Food Bank would be that place. Ilene was a single mother, raising two boys in the Bay area in the 80s. Although she worked full-time, she had no financial support from the boys’ father and there always seemed to be more month than money. For the first time, Ilene considered getting help from her local food bank. So, when it was time to consider volunteer work, she was led to the food bank. Ilene proposed the idea to John and he said “yes”.

Not only did they have more time on their hands, but Ilene and John shared, “We are so blessed with prosperity and good health; we are able to engage in the work that needs to be done.” In 2018, this married duo began volunteering in the warehouse on Mondays to sort nonperishable food. They were having such a good time, they added another day — Ilene working with registration and bagging, while John moved to support the Operations Team with food coming off trucks from the local grocery stores. Ilene and John say, “We love the positive environment, the physical work, and the comradery with other volunteers and staff. Twin Lakes is a place where all people being their authentic self is celebrated.”

John and Ilene stay very active outside of their time at the food bank. They enjoy working together on home improvement projects and love to travel. John also works part-time at Home Depot in the Electrical Department just for the fun, while Ilene works part-time for a local financial consultant.  In their remaining time, you will find John building wooden sailing ship replicas and riding his motorcycle, and Ilene sewing and gardening.

Jonathan and Deborah Farmer

How many years have you volunteered?
Deb (5 years) and Jon (4 years)

How did you hear about TLFB? 
Trinity Episcopal Church

Volunteer Roles: 
Deb (Warehouse) and Jon (Driver/Sorter)

Who encouraged you to volunteer?
Another TLFB volunteer and friend, Alice Ross.

What has been inspiring and/or challenging about working with the clients?
Inspiring – Our clients who come in with a smile on their faces and a good attitude. Challenging – Our clients who come in without a smile or are having a bad day.

How do you see the world differently as a result of your experience at TLFB?
We see our homeless clients in a more compassionate light. I see our seniors having such a hard time making ends meet, that I’ve never considered before; it saddens me.

Prior careers before TLFB:
Deb (Land Surveyor) and Jon (Accountant)

Other organization/church that you volunteer for:
HART of Folsom, Trinity Thrift Shop, Powerhouse Ministries Track Ambassador for Sonoma Raceway

How do you spend your time outside of TLFB?
Other volunteer jobs and traveling.

What do you wish people knew about TLFB?
That we go out into the community to Folsom Lake College and to our friends at Mercy Care Center to serve groceries. Our Angels on Wheels program, the delivery of groceries to housebound individuals, is something we wish more people knew about.

Judy Becerril

What led you to volunteer?
Following retirement, I knew that I wanted to give back to my community.  I learned about the Twin Lakes Food Bank six years ago, while working part-time at the Folsom Mercantile Exchange Antique Mall, when a food bank representative came in to recruit auction items for their Gala.  At the same time, I found out that a colleague of mine was volunteering there, and decided to get involved.

Where do you serve/volunteer?
I started volunteering as a clothing sorter in 2013 and when the clothing closet program ended two years later, I moved to the bagging department as well as sorting refrigerated food items that came in from the local grocery stores on Tuesdays.  Now, I volunteer on Mondays as well to sort eggs. I’m considered the Egg Lady around the food bank, ensuring that each carton of eggs we distribute is intact with no cracks or leaks, just like you would expect when going to the grocery store.

Why do you volunteer for TLFB? 
I enjoy helping people in need, and have had profound encounters with some of our clients. I remember one homeless client named Joe, who was always respectful and polite when he came in for food. One day, he walked in with tattered jeans, only held together by safety pins — it broke my heart. I asked Joe if he would accept some gently used clothing that I had. He was so appreciative. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like God was using me in that moment to make sure Joe knew that he mattered and deserved attention and care.

The best part about serving the clients at TLFB? 
I get to be a source of hope for the people who come that are hurting and seem hopeless; I get to give away smiles and hugs that cost nothing, yet bring such gratitude. My heart is happy when I get to know a client, truly listen to them, and for a client to return interest and respect for me.

Current job outside TLFB? Or prior career?
I am a retired Supervisor of the Cashier Unit at the Board of Equalization where I worked for 23 years.  Concurrently, I had a merchant booth at the Folsom Mercantile Exchange Antique Mall on Sutter Street for 20 years, selling primarily kitchenware, jewelry, and toy collectibles.

Other organizations that you volunteer for?
I served on the board for the Sutter Street Merchants Association for eight year as treasurer.  I also volunteer for the Folsom Historical Society during Evaluation, when people come to the museum with an antique item to learn its worth from valuation experts in a particular field.

Do you have other hobbies and interests?
I stay connected with friends from junior high school to former colleagues from the Board of Equalization and fellow antique merchants; we have lunch, play bunco and other games. I like to browse antique stores and collect dolls and Vaseline glass.

Kellie McNair

KellieWhen friend and interim Executive Director, Celeste Petersen asked Kellie to volunteer writing a grant for the food bank’s organic garden in 2017, little did Kellie know the journey she would embark with Twin Lakes. While researching for the grant, Kellie toured the garden and was astounded at the size and breadth of the crops; she loved the great vibe of the space as well. It was clear that there were not enough volunteers and so she raised her hand. “It’s been my ‘dirt therapy’ ever since,” Kellie laughs. Every Thursday morning, Kellie is performing whatever tasks need to be done, from planting and weeding to watering and harvesting fruits and vegetables that clients take home when they visit.

Prior to volunteering in the garden, Kellie had just retired as a school teacher within the Folsom Cordova Unified School District (FCUSD) where she taught elementary and then middle school students for 20 years. This career path in this school district wasn’t surprising as Kellie grew up in Rancho Cordova with her educator parents and two sisters, who also became educators.  What is interesting is the circuitous path that she took to get to her teaching career. Following her degree in English from Sacramento State University, Kellie obtained a law degree from  McGeorge Law School and practiced business litigation for a major corporation, then government law as the deputy city attorney of Sacramento. In 1996, Kellie came to a revelation; she had no joy in lawyering. However, she reflected that her best days as a lawyer were Career Days within FCUSD while speaking to students about her profession. “I got excited to break down big concepts and big pictures into bite size pieces for the students.” The rest is history.

Kellie’s zeal and ability to teach others has led her to serve in an additional capacity at the food bank, that of volunteer grant writer. “Most non-profits hire or contract with grant writers, so to have Kellie commit extensive time to research and write our grant applications, to effectively and eloquently teach our story to others, is a tremendous blessing,” says Lisa Tuter. Over the last three years, Kellie has attended two grant writing workshops, 100+ hours of research, submitted 53 grant and sponsorship applications and has helped raise over $25,000.

Kellie is married to Robert, her high school sweetheart, and recently celebrated their 35th anniversary. Over the last year, they have both tutored their nephews and niece as a result of distance learning challenges due to the pandemic. In addition, Kellie enjoys walking, working out at the local Kaia Fit gym and wine tasting with friends.

It is a short walk and a small bridge separating Kellie’s house from Twin Lakes Food Bank’s neighborhood; it is close to home and close to her heart. “It seems so simple — feed hungry people. Sometimes the message is hard to get out there whether it’s with neighbors, sponsors or grantors. There are many people who still don’t know that Folsom has a food bank, that we have neighbors in need. I’m glad to help share that need and invite others into this story.”

Lenny Crocker

How long have you been volunteering?

4 years

How did you hear about TLFB?
I relocated here from the Bay Area and my cousin, who is a volunteer, told me to check it out.

What is your volunteer role?
I volunteer 2-3 days a week and do a little bit of everything. Some days, I work in the bagging room or the warehouse to make sure the shelves stay stocked. Thursdays, I volunteer on the Pantry on Wheels (POW) team.

What is inspiring and/or challenging about working with the clients?
It makes my heart feel full to know that I am doing something good for others.

Prior career before volunteering at TLFB?
In my earlier years, I worked as a numerical control operator for a precision sheet metal company.

What are your hobbies/interests?
I enjoy cooking, especially Guamanian recipes that my Grandma taught me. I am also a diehard 49er football fan.

What do you wish people knew about TLFB?
The staff and volunteers are the best. I came to Folsom with no community and this place welcomed me. Some of them have become good friends. This is a place where you can be accepted and known, faults and all.

Louise Klein

How long have you been volunteering?
I’ve been volunteering for eight months.

What is your volunteer role?
I provide support to the staff, volunteer team and clients wherever I’m needed.

How did you hear about TLFB?
During Folsom Community Service Day last year, I witnessed and learned from Volunteer Coordinator, Michele Cordoba, what the food bank does to address food insecurity at every level in our community.

What was your first impression of the food bank?
I loved the mission to serve the hungry, and appreciated the impact that the organization had in the community with such a small facility and staff. I decided that I wanted to contribute to the mission.

What is inspiring or challenging while working with the clients?
The majority of clients leave with a smile and expressions of gratitude. It makes me feel that we are doing something to lighten their struggle, if just for the day, and that inspires me.

Do you have any hobbies? Other organizations that you volunteer for?
I love to travel, enjoy music and cooking with my family, play golf with friends and like to explore geneology. I’m also involved in volunteering with Sacramento Brain Freeze, Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity.

What was your former career?
Prior to retirement, I was a corporate manager for a Silicon Valley tech company and before that, a sales manager for Hilton Hotel Properties.

What do you wish people knew about TLFB?
The commitment of the organization to address food insecurity in the community is boundless!

Marjorie Shideler

How long have you been volunteering?
I started volunteering 12 years ago, in the clothing ministry for a few months before moving to the registration desk.

What is your volunteer role?
I am a registration volunteer who greets and registers any client that comes for service on a Thursday morning. We use a database that records the visit, the size of the family, thus the amount of food distributed. I’m often asked if we have any income requirements in order to receive food, and no we don’t require proof of income, just current mail that reflects that the clients live in our service area.

How did you hear about TLFB?
I wanted to get involved in something meaningful after retiring from my career as a kindergarten teacher. I thought that I would be a companion to the elderly, like playing bingo or painting women’s nails, but the convalescent hospital never called me back. Shortly after that, I was eating at Karen’s Bakery and ran into a couple friends who were regular TLFB volunteers, who invited me to volunteer with them. It was perfect timing.

What was your first impression of the food bank?
I loved the mission to serve the hungry, and appreciated the impact that the organization had in the community with such a small facility and staff.

What do you look forward to when coming in to volunteer?
I love to greet our clients and check in with them every Thursday morning and look for ways to be a source of encouragement to them. I especially value listening to their stories, and try to find common ground with the clients, especially when we have a shared experience. Thursday is a special day to me.

What is inspiring or challenging while working with the clients?
I think it is inspiring and challenging at the same time when clients open up to share their health, relationship or financial issues. I feel that those are sacred moments, an opportunity to be present in their suffering and offer a comforting prayer, if they are open to it.

Do you have any hobbies?
I was a member of the Sacramento Choral Society for 17 years and sang in my church choir at Capitol Christian Center. I enjoy knitting simple things like scarfs and throw blankets. My family lives nearby, so I’m grateful that I can spend time with my kids and three grandsons.

What was your former career?
After I graduated with a degree in music at in South Dakota, I began working as a vocal music teacher (K-7th) for two years, but I really wanted to get into classroom and teach, so became an elementary teacher. I followed my boyfriend to California in 1960 (we ended up breaking up), where I became a kindergarten teacher and met Bob, the 6th grade teacher (who I ended up marrying). I loved teaching my kids every day, until retiring in 2002.

Maureen (Mo) Johnson

How long have you been volunteering?
2-1/2 years

How did you hear about TLFB?
I was looking online for volunteer opportunities in the area.

What is your volunteer role?
I’ve done a little of everything: warehouse, bagging, Pantry on Wheels. Currently, I volunteer at what we call the Front Counter where I offer our clients a variety of perishable foods such as meat, eggs, and dairy products.

What encouraged you to volunteer?
I was looking for something to help distract me from constant feelings of grief after having lost my daughter the year before starting at TLFB, and her death was exactly 15 years to the day that we lost our son to brain cancer. Getting out of the house and doing something for others was very healing and continues to be to this day.

What is inspiring and/or challenging about working with the clients?
I’m inspired when I can bring a smile to one of our client’s faces who might be having a bad day.

How do you see the world differently as a result of your experience here?
I’ve come to learn that we are all really the same, rich or poor, when it comes to the need for love and belonging.

Prior career before volunteering at TLFB?
In my earlier years, I worked as a medical laboratory technician. Currently, my husband and I are self-employed in the music industry. I also spend a lot of time, caring for my grandson, Milo.

What are your hobbies/interests?
I love gardening (just don’t like the sweating!) and enjoy cooking new foods.

What do you wish people knew about TLFB?
The volunteers at TLFB are like a second family — imperfect, warts and all, but most lovely.

Merlina Castro

How long have you volunteered at the food bank?
September is my one-year anniversary volunteering at the food bank.

What is your volunteer role?
Registration. I greet and register clients coming in to receive food on Wednesday mornings.

Why do you volunteer for for TLFB?
I truly love helping people and enjoy working with the other volunteers and staff who are all so kind, friendly and generous. Everyone works hard to help the community and has fun and great laughs with each other while doing it.

What is the best part about serving at TLFB?
It is awesome to interact with the clients and listen first-hand how grateful they are for the groceries that the food bank provides their families.

What do you do outside of TLFB?
I am a full-time mom to my four year old daughter, who keeps me busy. Prior to volunteering at the food bank, I was a store manager in the retail-clothing sector.

Interests and hobbies?
I enjoy reading, working out and training for half marathons, cooking Filipino (obviously), Italian , Mediterranean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Mexican food.
I look forward to furthering my education and career choices in the near future.

Mitch Pickering *

If you visit the food bank’s produce stand on a Wednesday, you will probably meet Mitch Pickering. Soft spoken and unassuming, Mitch is always ready with a smile and listening ear when clients stop by to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables. In 2016, Mitch and his son, Sam, came to volunteer at the food bank because Sam needed community service hours for school and the Boy Scouts. When Sam completed his hours, there was a need for more Wednesday volunteers and the food bank asked Mitch if he could serve on regular basis. Since he was recently retired and had the time, Mitch said yes. He first started working in the warehouse with sorting nonperishable food and then moved to produce to help clients select their produce and then weigh their grocery carts.

Prior to volunteering at the food bank, Mitch worked 40 years as a surgical registered nurse and then as a clinical coordinator for the operating room at Mercy General Hospital until he retired in 2015. He loved being a part of the team to heal the sick and providing a comforting presence to patients who were often times scared and fearful for their lives. His care and concern for the vulnerable in the hospital carried over to the vulnerable at the food bank. “I see so many down and out people. It’s a good feeling to know you are helping those in need and being able to provide a listening ear to their struggles.”

Outside of the food bank, Mitch enjoys spending time with his wife, Janet, and their son, Sam. They are a very active family of which adventures include skiing, hiking, camping, kayaking, biking and scuba diving, to name just a few. Mitch enjoys carpentry projects around the house, working out at the gym, serving as the assistant scoutmaster for his son’s Boy Scout troop and taking their beloved golden retriever, Brandy, on daily walks.

It is no surprise that Mitch is fit and strong, and at 72 years old, can lift heavier boxes than some of the younger volunteers. What is his secret to vitality? Mitch points to his father (still fit and spry at the age of 97) who instilled in him the values of hard work, honesty and giving back to the community. “Besides his mantra ‘never stop moving’ my dad impressed upon me to humbly help others in need.” Those values are evident as Mitch interacts with the clients, “Last week, I met a client who could barely walk, so I helped push her full cart of groceries to her car. During that walk, she vented about challenging health issues, which gave me the opportunity to listen and empathize. It is extremely fulfilling that, while providing food, we can cause a smile on a client’s face every now and then.”


Pat Carper

How long have you been volunteering?
16 years

How did you hear about TLFB?
After I retired, I thought I would be a woman of leisure. That lasted about a week. The words of my mother that she shared when I was a child, “Actions speak louder than words” resonated in my head. So, I started researching local organizations that I could volunteer and found Twin Lakes Food Bank.

What is your volunteer role?
When I first came to Twin Lakes, we distributed clothing in addition to food, so I sorted and distributed clothing to our clients. I would also attend local events to promote and educate the community on the mission of the food bank. Currently, I work at our produce stand where I volunteer every Wednesday morning, rain or shine.

What is inspiring and/or challenging about working with the clients?
I simply love to help people right where they are at, hopefully put a smile on their face, knowing that many of them come to the food bank with heavy burdens.

Prior career before volunteering at TLFB?
I was a special education teacher in the San Juan Unified School district for over 20 years.

What are your hobbies/interests?
I am a member of the Folsom Garden Club as well as the California Retired Teacher Association. I also volunteer at the Fair Oaks Library, where I live in Fair Oaks with my husband, Don, of 51 years.

What do you wish people knew about TLFB?
The people who come to the food bank are just like you and me. We all could be or have been in the same boat, where we need a little extra help. Never say never.

Robert Kelly

Robert Kelly came to volunteer at the food bank in an unusual way, but what was normal about 2020, right? A long-time resident in Santa Cruz, Robert temporarily relocated to Folsom in March 2020 to be able to visit his sick brother, a patient at Vibra Hospital, and to be closer to family. In keeping with Covid-19 protocol, he would stand outside his brother’s window and talk with him on the phone. While Robert had these outside visits, he noticed the activity next door in the Mt. Olive parking lot, where we had begun drive thru food distributions for our clients. He watched cart runner volunteers, literally, run groceries back and forth from the food bank campus to the trunks of clients’ cars and became intrigued.  Since Robert was committed to living in the area for a while, he asked if we needed any help.  We had just lost a large portion of our volunteer work force due to being Covid-19 “high risk”, so Robert’s offer was an answer to prayer. He volunteers nearly every day and has worked every different volunteer job, and then some.  He is quick to point out however, “Just don’t make me work registration,” with a chuckle.

Before becoming a part of our TLFB team, Robert was the Executive Artistic Director of the Santa Cruz Ballet Theater, where he choreographed over 50 ballets.  He has worked as a ballet dancer, teacher and choreographer, including teaching in Europe.  He served as an Executive Board Member of Regional Dance America (for 20 years) and Visit Santa Cruz. In the time that Robert spends away from Twin Lakes Food Bank, he enjoys Competitive Dressage, where he holds 16 National Championship titles and currently has five horses that he shows.  Gardening is also a passion, as well as spending as much time as possible with his family on the lake. 

When asked about what he is most passionate at the food bank, Robert is quick in his response. “Our homeless.”  He admits that he was surprised how the homeless clients have affected him — their stories, challenges and experiences.  “Living in Santa Cruz, there are homeless people everywhere. I knew there were food banks, but I never understood how they worked and how they can really impact the lives of the homeless.”  Robert’s experience has taught him that every client is different with different needs, “a spectrum of needy,” he calls it.  Robert is learning to meet them each where they are, at a given moment.  Building trust with a client, especially a homeless client, takes time and once you get there, you can help them to help themselves. “Consistency is so important.  You need to be consistent,” Robert believes. 

The pandemic has rocked our world over the past ten months, but one steady, bright light for whom we are grateful, who found us from an outside window at Vibra Hospital, is Robert. 

Robyne Cortes

What influenced you to volunteer?
About 6-1/2 years ago, my husband and I were looking to volunteer somewhere together locally. Twin Lakes sparked our interest and when we talked to the staff, we knew we had found the perfect place.

What is your volunteer role?
Bagging mainly, although I’ve cross trained in several areas.

What excites you to volunteer every week at TLFB?
I love serving our clients, seeing the beautiful faces and listening to stories of the families that stop by. Some days are more challenging than others,but my heart is full every time I leave my shift.

What is the best part about serving the clients at TLFB?
The warm smiles, the hugs, the true appreciation of our families that I meet. My heart aches especially for our homeless friends living out in the elements. Kids and families that have no place to call home break my heart. I know that sometimes all it takes is a caring heart, a listening ear and a warm hug to make someone’s day. I have lots of stories about my interaction with our homeless friends. It really puts things into perspective and creates a true appreciation for life and everything I have.

What does life look like outside of TLFB?
I am fortunate enough to be retired! I founded and operate a small community organization, called Craft 4 Change, where we partner with other non-profit organizations to create things people need. I have a small home-based business, called Re-Love Boutique, where I upcycle and make things from recycled materials. 50% of my profits go to Cottage Housing’s Youth Skylab programs, where I also teach arts and crafts to former homeless kids.

What were you doing before retiring?
I was in the printing business for 15 years.

Do you have time for anything else?
Oh yes! I enjoy crafts, sewing, gardening, cooking, wine tasting, camping, hiking, floral arranging, beachcombing, and decorating for Christmas.

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