When Sonia Sinton-Clark first came with her parents to volunteer at EHP at the age of four, she thought it was great fun. That was partly because her father would sing songs he made up about frozen turkeys, and the kids all loved it. Twenty-four years later, she still enjoys the experience, though for slightly different reasons.
Sonia grew up in Palo Alto, the little sister of two older brothers. Her mother, Wendy Sinton, is the volunteer co-ordinator for the team from Congregation Beth Am who give many hours of service to EHP. Having graduated from San Jose State University, Sonia is now working towards a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. Being away from the area most of the year doesn't stop her volunteer activity with EHP: home for the Holidays in December, she spent time packing and delivering food boxes.
So what is it that makes her turn out for EHP every year? “ I found out quite young that doing a small thing can make a real difference”, she says. “One of the things I remember very clearly from when I was a child is taking food boxes to seniors in the Runnymede Gardens Apartments, and seeing how happy it made them to have kids helping with the deliveries.” Working at the loading and distribution end of the process, she says, gave her a much clearer idea of what is needed and useful. When not packing food, Sonia and her brothers would help with the selection and bagging of toys. Now, when she sees a toy drive, she thinks not just of small children, but of what an older child or a teenager might want, like a hairdryer or a Walkman.
When Sonia was a teenager, she inherited her grandmother's car, and drove it till she graduated from college and got a new one. Guess where that favorite old car went? To EHP, of course. “I still wonder about it, and kind of look out for it around town” she confesses. She likes to think that it's still on the road and of use to someone.
Sonia thinks it's good to find out about volunteering when young. “Being in the volunteering habit makes it easier to see what's needed and help in many situations”, she says. It certainly worked for this young woman.
Erica’s father taught her about gardening when she was very young. In addition to growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, he canned his own peaches, pickles, and bell peppers, and was an amazing cook. He has served as a role model for her growing up. Since then, she has had a garden everywhere she has lived, and she also enjoys cooking. She began searching for a gardening volunteer opportunity after discovering Alice Waters, the inspiring chef and founder of the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley. She wanted to channel her passion toward a cause that she strongly believes in, which is how she found the Ecumenical Hunger Program.
In June 2009, she took on the responsibility of starting the summer garden at EHP. Erica said that growing produce at EHP has been the most enlightening experience of her life. After working in the garden for a few hours, she fills up a cart with everything that she has harvested, and distributes it to participants. “It is hard to explain the joy that I feel giving families the fruits and vegetables that I have grown.” Part of Erica’s time is also spent teaching children at EHP how to garden and compost, and letting them taste the many fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are being grown.
Through this experience, Erica has developed a deep sense of compassion and urgency toward ensuring that all people receive basic necessities. This relates to and supports her quest to become a physician. “I believe that education on gardening and nutritious eating supports a healthier lifestyle, and thus contributes to the prevention of health problems such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life,” she says.
Erica is leaving EHP this summer and heading off to medical school in Michigan to fulfill her dream. She believes that EHP helped her get into med school, because during her interview she talked about her work at EHP and brought photos of the children and the garden. We will miss Erica tremendously and congratulate her on being selected as EHP’s 2010 Volunteer of the Year!
Carolyn Beckner first came to EHP 20 years ago to deliver a donation of food at Christmas. She was impressed witnessing Lesia Preston giving care to each family as they picked up children’s holiday gifts. Lesia accepted Carolyn’s donation with such a warm “Thank you!” that she decided on the spot that she wanted to do more. She asked her husband to donate what he would spend on a Christmas gift for her directly to EHP. When she brought in that check she met Nevida Butler and received a warm hug. With the support of her husband of fifty years, Carolyn has continued to donate her time and her Christmas money to EHP ever since. She says she returns month after month, year after year, because of the warm hugs and the blessing she feels.
Now that she is retired, she doesn’t miss a week of helping in the clothing appointment closet. She is in awe of the hard work she sees the staff doing every day. Carolyn loves working together with the staff at EHP to give to the community. With a smile she says again, “Did I mention I love the staff?” In the clothing closet she especially enjoys the humor and stories from elderly women who come to pick out dresses for church. She refers to them as her “sugar plums and sweetie pies.” The first ever Community BlockFest held at EHP on September 25th was a highlight of the year for Carolyn. No matter what the life circumstances of the over 300 people in attendance (individuals, families, staff, donors, volunteers) they all enjoyed moving to the beat of the lively music contributed by several local musicians. Carolyn can’t wait for the 2nd annual BlockFest next year!
Charles Earl Simmons was born on February 24, 1944 to Mr. & Mrs. Johnnie Simmons in Magnolia, Mississippi. He was one eight siblings including four brothers and four sisters. He attended Central High School where he graduated in May of 1962 in Liberty, Mississippi. Chuck accepted Christ at an early age at Sherman Missionary Baptist Church in Magnolia, Mississippi. Charles, better known as “Chuck," moved to California in 1964. He met, fell in love and married Elaine Greer Simmons in 1981. Chuck was a Christian man who loved the Lord with all of his heart, mind and soul. He was very active in the Bay Area District Association Laymen's Ministry. He volunteered at various community charitable organizations. He was employed by the County of San Mateo for thirty-six years and retired in 2006. Chuck was an honest man with a big heart. He was a loving husband, step-father, son, brother, uncle and friend to many.
Chuck was a dedicated volunteer with EHP for over 10 years. He was an invaluable member of the EHP family and a constant fixture at the EHP campus. He took care of a multitude of different tasks including landscaping, assisting with the distributions, unloading donations, even taking out the trash when it was necessary. Chuck had an amazing work ethic, one that we all learned from. No matter how difficult the task, he would do it with a smile on his face. Chuck will truly be missed, not just for the time that he faithfully donated to the program but for his positive spirit and uplifting personality. We all grieve the loss of an amazing friend but we know that he finally receiving his just rewards from a life well lived.
Charles Earl Simmons 2/24/44-5/7/2010