Philabundance’s Jose Vargas on Service with a Smile
Meet Jose Vargas, coordinator of Fresh for All – our free farmer’s market – and one of the friendliest faces a volunteer could encounter at Philabundance.
How did you get started at Philabundance?
I started as a Philabundance Community Kitchen (PCK) student in 2001. After graduating the program, I was offered a full time position at PCK. So my first time here was 5-6 years working as the staff cook supervisor and I was also supervising the mass meal production with about 5 guys.
I came back to Philabundance in 2011 to work at the Community Food Center, a food pantry Philabundance run with the help of volunteers. After that, I worked at our North Philadelphia warehouse until the Fresh for All position opened up.
What do you bring to your role as Fresh for All coordinator that’s unique?
Growing up, my grandma had that old school mentality and way of thinking… she was always the one who was willing to help in any way. You needed food, she’d give you food, clothing, whatever to help as best she could. It grew on me – now if I can help somebody in any way, I’ll do my best to do that.
Coming from the community that we serve, I’m better in tune with what our customers/clients are facing. A lot of people are in a situation they don’t want to be in. I like to be encouraging and acknowledge that, yes, you’re in a bad situation, but things will change, things are going to get better for you. Remind them that Philabundance is here and the reason we’re here is to help them better their situation and reassure them that life will get better. We all fall through bad times, come through bad times; there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
What’s your favorite part of working with volunteers?
I like working with volunteers because of their commitment to what the program offers the community, which is pretty much service with a smile. That’s what I get out of it – I’m inspired by their willingness to help.
Volunteers are non-judgmental to the needs of the clients accessing the program; some of them can relate to the feeling of the client due to the fact that they themselves are also clients. They appreciate what we do and how we strive to make the experience a very enjoyable one based on their circumstances.
What are some of the ways you and the volunteers make the experience enjoyable?
We try to play good music each day. Being able to listen to music makes anyone happier, a little quicker to smile.
Every day I’m at Fresh for All, I communicate that I’m blessed that I’m able to be a part of what we do. I know the volunteers feel the same way I do about being there, it’s a good feeling, it’s a humbling feeling. Our customers see that and then are just as happy as everyone else that goes.
Any last, special words for all of our amazing volunteers?
I want to thank them for their humility and commitment, to Philabundance and its mission – and I want to thank them on behalf of the clients too. I would encourage them to come join me at a Fresh for All (especially our New Jersey sites!) and to keep acting on our behalf, whether it’s volunteering, donating, advocating or just talking about the issue of hunger.