One Call at a Time: A Conversation with Volunteer Gary Bienstock

In honor of National Volunteer Week (April 12-18), we conducted an interview with Gary Bienstock, a volunteer with WhyHunger’s Nourish Network for the Right to Food. This is an edited conversation with Megan Campbell, a junior at Fordham University and the Communications Intern at WhyHunger.

Volunteer Gary Bienstock

Name: Gary Bienstock Age: 69 Hometown: Born in the Bronx, raised in Queens Volunteer Stats: Once a week for the last three years Fun Fact: Has listened to WhyHunger’s annual Hungerthon for 30 years!

Megan: What is your professional background?

Gary: My career was in the garment center where I worked for women’s designer clothing companies for many years. I recently retired and wanted to give back. I felt that I always worked to support my family and due to the nature of the job, I didn’t have a lot of time to do volunteer work. My family grew up with radio legend Pete Fornatale, my children are still good friends with his children, and he was always very active with WhyHunger, so I knew of WhyHunger through him. After I retired, I contacted the folks at WhyHunger to see what I could do to help them and now I volunteer in the office and help with events.

Megan: What exactly do you do in the office?

Gary: I do outreach. I make a lot of phone calls to tell people about WhyHunger and get their information in order to send WhyHunger Hotline posters to them and to let them know that we are here for whatever they need. Every day I volunteer, Patricia Rojas, WhyHunger Hotline and Database Manager for Nourish Network for the Right to Food, gives me a list of calls to make. Today I’m calling different clinics.

Megan: What do you like about WhyHunger?

Gary: What I like about WhyHunger is that it helps people who need assistance but might not know where to go to get help. Our main focus is to direct them to places where they can get help and healthy food. I feel our work is very important because many people don’t know that there are other things available to them, including food banks, access to healthy food, education and other services. We also educate people on places to get healthy food and other things for a healthy life. There are many different aspects of WhyHunger that I find appealing and that make me want to volunteer here.

Megan: Could you speak a little bit about the power of volunteering and how much of a difference volunteers make?

Gary: Sure. One of the things that I find very gratifying about making calls is when people are thrilled and relieved to hear from us. They feel that we are so important to their neighbors that need help. We not only help individuals, but we also call food banks and things like that so when they don’t have enough food to give out, we can help them out by providing their patrons with additional places they can go to get food. It’s a very gratifying feeling when people thank you for calling and express their appreciation for what you’re doing. And for me, I find it very satisfying that I’m at least doing something that’s helping humanity other than making money.

Megan: Do you have any advice for people who want to start volunteering but maybe don’t know how or don’t want to work in a traditional soup kitchen?

Gary: Yes! My first thought is to contact an organization that you’re interested in. Most nonprofit organizations love volunteers and they will find something for you to do that fits your background and professional skill set. If it’s a nonprofit that you really have an interest in, you will enjoy being there and you will find it very gratifying. Many nonprofits let you work from home if you can’t work in the office; you don’t necessarily have to travel or be in an office or soup kitchen to volunteer. You can do it from anywhere nowadays and it really is a very satisfying experience that I think everybody should try. I enjoy doing it and I look forward to the days that I come in!

WhyHunger collects and distributes information about programs that address the immediate and long-term needs of struggling families and individuals. The national WhyHunger Hotline (1.800.5HUNGRY or 1.800.548.6479), refers people in need of emergency food assistance to food pantries, government programs, and model grassroots organizations that work to improve access to healthy, nutritious food, and build self-reliance. Please visit /findfood for more information.

Kristina Erskine