Second Havest Volunteer Knows Both Sides of Hunger

Long-time Second Harvest volunteer Anna Withrow, understands firsthand the what it means to live with hunger. After finding herself in a situation where she could no longer afford food, Anna promised herself that whenever she found her way to the other side of hunger she would do something to support people in a similar situation.  

Today, Anna is a successful business owner and has been a dedicated Second Harvest volunteer for the past 18 years. Anna has been instrumental to the planning and execution of Second Harvest’s largest fundraising event, Toronto Taste. While this past June marked her final year on the Toronto Taste Steering Committee, she has etched herself a permanent place in the Second Harvest family.

We sat down with Anna to chat about her years as a volunteer with Second Harvest.

 

How did you begin volunteering at Second Harvest?

A friend of mine invited me to join the Toronto Taste Steering Committee as their Silent Auction Chair. Knowing I’m an avid volunteer and have a keen interest in all-things food and wine related, she invited me to be her co-chair.

Why Second Harvest?

I had first-hand experience with hunger years before joining the Toronto Taste Steering Committee and really didn’t know where to get help. At the time, I promised myself that if I could find my way to the other side of hunger, I would find a smart, respectful way to support people who found themselves in the same situation. It felt like kismet to be at that meeting learning about Second Harvest – this magic organization with such a logical approach to solving hunger.

 What’s your role on the Toronto Taste Steering Committee?

First I co-chaired the silent auction committee, then raffle committee, then floral committee before my two year term as Toronto Taste event co-chair. I became the co-chair of the Communications Committee after that, a role I’ve had for the past six years.

I also help Second Harvest with other events whenever possible. I’m usually a team lead for Turkey Drive, and I’ve fundraised and volunteered for Hero Day and other Second Harvest events.

What’s your interest with food rescue?

After a successful retail business I co-founded went sideways, I had trouble making ends meet. There just wasn’t enough money after paying bills to buy groceries. I’d go without food for days at a time. That’s when I found myself dumpster diving behind a coffee shop for food. It was a desperate act of starvation rather than a loving act of conservation – not joyful, shameful.

When I was making a decent living again, I thought a lot about how to solve that problem – how do you prevent the food from making it to the dumpster and get it to people who need it? How do you remove the stigma involved in that exchange? For the coffee shop, there’s tangible value in diverting that waste before it lands in their dumpster – it saves the cost of waste removal. And for a hungry person, there’s obvious value in having the food without feeling ashamed about asking for hand-outs. It always made sense to me to connect these two parties and make it into a very simple transaction where the value of surplus food is democratized – both sides win.

As a business owner, how do you find the time and energy to volunteer at Second Harvest?

I like solving puzzles and finding solutions. I’m very goal-oriented and consummately curious about how things like communities, experiences, businesses and technologies interconnect. I’ve realized that I require a very balanced approach to that, I’m a very social introvert – I’m pumped by conversation and collaboration, but ultimately, I need a lot of time alone to digest and process the ideas from those conversations. I work alone from home, so being part of a committee or working as part of a team forces me out of my shell and provides me with the social fuel I need to feed my introvert engine. So volunteer work is actually an energy generator for me most of the time rather than an energy consumer.

What’s your favourite thing about volunteering at Second Harvest?

The Second Harvest staff is definitely my favourite part of the volunteer experience. They are a team of wonderful people who care deeply about their work and the communities they serve. They create this fun, supportive, familial atmosphere where you have the opportunity to experiment, take calculated risks, learn, challenge yourself and do great work. It’s kind of been like going to Harvard University while living with the Partridge Family – the expectations are high, the work can be tough, but you’re surrounded by laughter, hugs and happiness at the end of the day.