If you want to hear about the latest binge-worthy shows to watch during your downtime, Tina Postel will tell you she’s not the person to ask.
The same is true for the team she leads at the combined nonprofits Loaves & Fishes and Friendship Trays.
“We’ve never been bored during the last 18 months,” said Postel, CEO of the nonprofits feeding people in need around Charlotte, North Carolina.
Greater needs. Fewer volunteers. A complete change in how to safely serve people. All among the impacts of the pandemic. All challenges overcome by the diligence of Postel and her colleagues.
“Overnight, we figured out a delivery system from our warehouse to someone’s doorstep,” Postel recalled. “Our mobile delivery became our biggest pantry.”
Regions Bank’s Charlotte market has supported Loaves & Fishes for the past three years during Tour de Turns, a cycling and walking fundraiser. The bank provides $10,000 as title sponsor and up to 20 event volunteers each year. This year, Regions fielded its first fundraising teams, with nearly 30 bank associates and their family members suiting up in LifeGreen gear to hit the pavement. Mike Mason championed the effort.
“I’m an avid cyclist and distance runner, so this event and the cause speak to me on a very personal level,” said Mason, who leads Regions’ Mergers & Acquisitions Integration team. “Regions is actively involved in a lot of events in the Charlotte community; I feel like we are at our best – and our most effective – when we closely identify with a community activity.”
Clearly, the Charlotte community identified with it, too. Records were broken for participation. The money raised? $110,000. Regions contributed $30,000 of that through associate donations and a fundraising match.
“People were ready to hit the open road,” said Postel. “This is a fun activity that supports a critical social need in our community.”
Food insecurity has always been a pressing issue, even more so lately. Loaves & Fishes typically serves 80,000 people each year; in 2020, they fed more than 120,000. In May 2021, the nonprofit merged with Friendship Trays, the local Meals On Wheels affiliate. Friendship Trays delivers 500 meals daily to homebound clients.
Navigating so much change in such a short time required Postel and team to innovate.
“We had to tell some of our dedicated elderly volunteers to please stay home,” Postel said. “To fill that gap, our staff stepped up right away, and we hired box packers, some of whom had been furloughed or laid off from other places. We also engaged a whole new army of volunteers in new ways.”
John Patrick is part of that army. Patrick regularly helped at two church pantries for 12 years. In 2020, he transitioned to delivering groceries to clients’ homes.
“When the pantries temporarily closed, I felt called to continue serving Loaves & Fishes in some manner,” said Patrick. “I wanted to do something that involved more direct contact with clients. That was my favorite part while working in the pantries.”
Patrick’s volunteer experience has always been rewarding, but it’s taken on even greater meaning.
“I’ve learned how very blessed I am to be able to serve in this manner,” he explained. “I feel as much or more blessed than our clients.”
The deliveries Patrick and other drivers make provide far more than a week’s worth of groceries; they offer a social lifeline.
“Many clients sit on the porch awaiting their delivery driver so they can wave to them,” said Postel. “They want that human connection. We deliver meals, but love and friendship are a byproduct we also provide.”
Feeding 40,000 more people during the past year-plus was unexpected, but the Loaves & Fishes/Friendship Trays team has figured it out at every turn.
“There’s a silver lining in this crisis,” Postel said. “It spurred us to do things we knew we should be doing and has served as a catalyst for new programs.”
Another bright spot – a renewed willingness to serve in more modern ways.
“We’ve seen a lot of good during this time,” she said. “People inherently want to give; they want to serve. You just have to open avenues for them to do so.”
That includes Mike Mason and his Charlotte teammates.
“Regions believes in the sense of community,” added Postel. “Their team members believe food is a basic human right. We are profoundly grateful to Regions.”
Mason is already looking forward to the 2022 Tour.
“Events like Tour de Turns make our communities stronger, and they make us stronger,” he said. “It encourages fitness while making a real difference for people in need. This event is one that makes life better for everyone involved.”