My Volunteer Experience with Island Harvest

By Mark Dazzo

After a very fulfilling and rewarding 34-year career in the publishing industry, I decided to retire in October of 2020. I am calling it early retirement, or semi-retirement, because I did not want to stop working altogether. I wanted to shift my focus to other causes that would allow me to make a positive impact on the lives of others. I have been blessed by never having to face food insecurity or make difficult choices between food, rent, medicine, and other expenses. Food insecurity is getting worse on Long Island, especially since the start of the pandemic. My heart and soul were calling me to help … in some way.

I am a person of faith and my faith teaches me to help others in need- locally, nationally or internationally. These are our neighbors! My faith speaks to the need to share one’s talents and gifts with those less fortunate. Because … “there but for the grace of God go I.” We know anyone can fall on hard times. I have long admired and supported Island Harvest and as a new retiree, I finally had the opportunity to volunteer my time, energy, and talents to a cause so close to my heart.

Over the last few months, I have helped deliver food assistance to senior citizens across Long Island. I have visited communities in Coram, East Patchogue, Selden, Melville, and more—some on multiple occasions—and saw the impact that Island Harvest is making firsthand. My first event was a large food distribution event at Island Harvest’s headquarters, where I met dozens of volunteers and organizers of the individual food pantries and community groups who support food insecure Long Islanders. I helped to pack boxes of food and load trucks and vans from food pantries and community groups that are on the front lines of this fight against hunger. It was a cold and rainy day, but that did not dampen the spirit. The passion, compassion, and grace in the eyes and step of my fellow volunteers was palpable and it made me want to come back for more.

I am amazed, humbled, and energized by my volunteering experience with Island Harvest. The need for food support has never been so great—the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc economically, socially, and health-wise on so many communities and families, especially on our Long Island neighbors who have been struggling with food insecurity even pre-pandemic. It has also presented challenges for how “on the ground” volunteer work is done. We must all follow a series of CDC guidelines involving masking, social distancing, hand washing, and more. When we do see and hear from clients from a distance, their gratitude shines through their masks, and that is incredibly rewarding. Clients are incredibly grateful for the food and support that they receive from Island Harvest, and for Island Harvest staff and volunteers.

I have had the opportunity to meet/work with several members of the Island Harvest staff—Shannon, Angela, Joe, Rosie, Marlayna, Randi, and many others. They are an incredibly talented and passionate team of professionals, dedicated to bettering the lives of our food-insecure neighbors. It’s clear that planning goes into each event in order to provide food and support smoothly and safely. I have learned so much through my volunteering experience with Island Harvest. I’ve come away with two lessons I’d share with anyone who is considering volunteering with Island Harvest:

There is no pressure! You can do a little, a lot, or something in-between—every little bit helps! As a volunteer, you get back so much more than you give. These volunteer events are not difficult or demanding, but the benefits are immeasurable. All I can say is that from my experience, I should have volunteered sooner! I thought it would require a big commitment of time and energy- I didn’t know where to start. I suggest that prospective volunteers get educated, to seek out information about the diversity of opportunities available through Island Harvest. Some require very little time; others need more of a long term commitment- there’s plenty of opportunities in between as well! From community food distributions like those I attended, to office volunteer work, fundraising events, community outreach, and more, I’ve seen that there’s an event or project for everyone! Island Harvest’s website and staff are great sources of information. Shannon, who heads up the volunteer efforts, is a great contact and resource. She can help you explore how and where your talents, skill sets, and passions intersect with the needs and projects that Island Harvest is operating.

You can crawl before you walk and walk before you run. It has been such a humbling experience to work alongside Island Harvest’s staff and volunteers, and I look forward to doing more. I hope to continue volunteering on the ground as well as expand my affiliation with Island Harvest by exploring projects that can leverage the skills that I built in my publishing career. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to use my talents and time to help others- you can make a difference for your neighbors in need too!

About Mark Dazzo

Mark Dazzo is a resident of Bayport, Long Island.   He recently retired from a very rewarding and fulfilling 34-year career in the publishing/media industry.  He’s decided to spend his semi-retirement on causes that he is passionate about, including food insecurity, climate change, and education.