Carrie Kitchin-Kofahl couldn't help but smile when she saw the poster displayed at the east entrance of the SSA Auburn Teleservice Center. It was given to the facility by the Edgewood Food Bank in Seattle. Food pantries in Seattle and around the country see fewer donations during the summer months. That's why Social Security Administration (SSA) employees at the facility had come together, collected and donated more than 20,000 pounds of food. It wasn't just a tremendous amount of food – it was a really big deal.
And Carrie knew it was a big deal as soon as she saw that poster. Those who rely on the food bank had left thank you notes to her colleagues at the SSA Auburn Teleservice Center.
“God bless you! This is the only food bank in the area that can provide enough food for myself [and my] 30-year-old son who is autistic,” read one note.
“Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity,” read another, and "Thank you so much. My family appreciate[s] it."
The thankful words filled the huge poster. Apparently, the food did more than filled empty stomachs; it filled more than a few hearts with hope.
Small Donations, Big Impact
"The employees at the Auburn SSA Teleservice Center are incredibly generous and care about their community and the people served by the food banks," said Kofahl, executive vice president of AFGE Local 3937. "Their donation will feed thousands of people, and that's what they care about and why they do it. The sheer magnitude of their donations blew us all away!"
Every year, Local 3937 and SSA management work together to encourage employees to make donations. This year, their goal was to collect and donate 6,800 pounds of food. Everyone was thrilled when they realized their actual total was over 20,000 pounds. But nothing compared to the feeling they got when they saw just how much they made a difference.
“The thank you notes just warmed my heart,” said Lydia Marsh, one of the onsite AFGE representatives at the Auburn facility.
In California, SSA employees and members of AFGE Local 2452 are also busy collecting for a local food bank. They devised different themes and incentives to encourage donations and make it fun.
If employees bring in school supplies they will receive an ice cream bar for a back to school theme. For a hot dog theme, they’ll get a hot dog lunch if they bring canned goods, condiments, and pet food. Managers also supply pizza for the group that brings in the most donations.
"I have found in my 37 years of working at Social Security that food is a great motivator," said Joan Florio, president of Local 2452. "So we used that to the advantage."
She's not kidding. Florio's 28-person office in Fountain Valley have already made a huge contribution to the Share Ourselves Food Bank in Costa Mesa. So far, employees have donated 755 pounds of food, 2,500 pounds of water, 633 school supply items, 97 individual hygiene kits and 286 other personal hygiene products.
Another 34-person office in her local, Wilshire Center in Los Angeles donated 2,750 pounds of food to the Los Angeles Food Bank. And items continue to come in.
Generosity through Solidarity
Every year, 48 million Americans struggle to get the food they need. When the challenge is that big, it's paralyzing to think about how we can help individually. But when caring people join together, seemingly insurmountable obstacles dissolve right in front of our eyes.
These Seattle and California public servants are just one part of the joint SSA-AFGE project. AFGE's Social Security Administration General Committee has teamed with the agency to raise awareness about hunger and mobilized employee donations. And they're part of an even bigger project.
The Feds Feed Families program, administered by the United States Department of Agriculture, runs from June 1 and Aug. 31.
The SSA-AFGE sponsored nation-wide campaign has yielded amazing results in local communities. The partnership is so successful that SSA won an award from the USDA for the highest donation totals among all medium-sized federal agencies in 2015. They donated an astounding 553,206 pounds of donations, 77% more than they did in 2014.
USDA also recognized 125 SSA employees and 46 SSA teams as “Hall of Fame” donors for their contributions of 250 pounds or more of food. Both employees and management were thrilled.
“It is an example of a good labor-management relationship,” said AFGE Council 220 President Witold Skwierczynski. “Union and management are working together to provide a service to those in need.”
Skwierczynski and Reginald Wells, the SSA Deputy Commissioner for Human Resources, attended the USDA awards ceremony last year.
“Both employees and management of SSA work with seniors, the disabled and low income members of the public," said Skwierczynski. "Their empathy for people experiencing difficulties showed itself in the large contributions."
"What these AFGE members and Social Security employees have accomplished is truly inspiring," said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. "But the empathy and generosity of public servants won't end with the Feds Feed Families campaign."
"Every day, AFGE members make a difference in their communities – whether it's while serving the American public at their day jobs or helping their neighbors while off the clock," Cox added.
If you're looking for a community that wants to make a difference, you'll find a home at AFGE. To learn how you can join the AFGE family, click here.