2024 National Volunteer Week – Part 1

Spotlight on Livingston County

April 21 through April 27, 2024 is National Volunteer Week! To celebrate, we’re highlighting some of our longtime volunteers – allow us to introduce you to some of our dedicated volunteers from Livingston County!

Bill and Roberta Simmons

Bill and Roberta have been married for 49 years. For the last 15 years, this dynamic duo has been working together almost every single weekday to support their neighbors at Gleaners’ Shared Harvest Pantry in Livingston County.

The Simmons know how to do just about every task at the pantry, from stocking shelves to training new volunteers. Roberta, especially, has gotten to know many families and individuals over the years. She knows some guests’ birthdays and often has special treats for kids who arrive to shop with their parents.

“It feels so good to volunteer here,” says Roberta. “The guests are all very appreciative. I just love our shoppers!”

Bill is an Army veteran and retired middle school teacher who coached football and basketball at all levels. Roberta is a retired math teacher-turned-high school counselor. The couple knew they wanted to continue being involved and making a difference in their community when they retired.

“We retired young, and volunteering was a savior for us,” says Roberta. “It allows us to make connections and keep active. It feels so good to be able to help our neighbors. The Livingston volunteers are like a family. We all have the same goal of helping people.”

The client choice model of Shared Harvest Pantry is especially meaningful to them. “We love that our guests can come in and can pick what they need, with pride. We feel blessed to be a part of this. Really, truly, we are fulfilled through volunteering at Gleaners.”

Dave Seibert

Dave first volunteered at Gleaners’ Detroit warehouse as part of a Compuware team volunteer activity around the year 2000. 24 years later, Dave is an integral part of the operations team at our Livingston County facility. He’s also part of our Gleaners Speakers Bureau, traveling throughout Southeast Michigan to bring awareness of our organization to school groups, corporate teams, and community groups.

When Dave first began his involvement at Gleaners’ Livingston around 22 years ago, the pantry was only open one evening a week. Dave recognized that our guests who were working during the 9-5 shift needed evening availability and would benefit from additional evening hours. He recruited volunteers to help staff additional evenings and stepped up to help – and he’s been doing it ever since. He’s now a lead volunteer, running pantry, distribution and warehouse shifts in Livingston County each week.  

“I enjoy being a Gleaners volunteer,” says Dave. “The other volunteers are great. I like the evening shift – it’s less busy, and the shoppers have time to talk. People come in after work, and most of the guests we serve are hardworking. We treat people with respect here. Giving them hope is as important – or more important- than giving them food.”

Dave is retired from Compuware, where he worked in IT as a database specialist. The grandfather of three has been an active community volunteer his entire adult life, volunteering at Gleaners and also with high school students, at soup kitchens, in youth ministry and with refugees. He says his time at Gleaners is “one of the most meaningful things I do.”

“When I don’t see my grandkids, volunteering at Gleaners is the highlight of my week,” Dave says with a smile.

Since Dave has been with Gleaners for so long, he’s been able to see how things have ebbed and flowed throughout the years. “In 22 years, Gleaners has improved a lot,” he shares. “Here in Livingston, we used to serve 60 – 100 families per month. Now, it’s a multitude more. The quantity of what we share has increased – and I notice a real focus on more healthy food. The healthy food and the level of service are the main two areas I’ve seen really improve since I’ve started.”

Some of the most memorable guests Dave has encountered are the ones he’s gotten to know over many visits. These include a guest suffering from long covid which has affected their ability to work, an immigrant family from Mexico who shares spices with the team when they pull up to a Fresh Market Pantry, and a special guest who made him handknitted socks to express their gratitude. “It goes beyond what people think of when they think of a food bank,” he says. “It’s people helping people.” 

Bert Belding

Bert Belding is at Gleaners’ Livingston location most days, sometimes behind the wheel of one our Gleaners’ mobile pick-up and delivery trucks, and sometimes in the warehouse, cracking jokes as he moves pallets around efficiently.

Gleaners’ staff calls him the “do it all guy” of the warehouse, and he is. He’s been volunteering at Gleaners for 17 years. After his retirement from Compuware in 2008, a friend “roped him in” to volunteering at Gleaners and he’s been a essential part of the  Livingston team ever since.

“I’ve had a fantastic life,” says Bert. “My dad was a geologist and we lived all over the world – Canada, Columbia, Sicily, Turkey, Rome. We never wanted.”  Bert counts his career with Compuware, his special relationship with his wife, his two kids and six grandkids as additional blessings.

It’s that gratitude that motivates Bert to give back to the community. “The people that come really need food,” he says. “When I can, I am here. I have to give back because I have been lucky in my life.”

Bert especially likes when kids come to Shared Harvest Pantry. “I love the little kids. I try to make them smile – and their parents. I think all people need to smile as much as they can.”

Bert has only taken two hiatuses from volunteering during those 17 years, for COVID and to care for his wife during her illness. “She was a wonderful partner,” he says. “We were married 54 years, 7 months and 5 days.” After her passing two years ago, Bert became even more active at Gleaners.

You can now find him at Gleaners 5 days a week, but he’s quick to point out he’s only officially on duty 4 days a week. On the fifth day, he comes on behalf of one of our nearly 400 community partners, Catholic Charities, picking up food for Catholic Charities to share through their programs.

“I like working at Gleaners,” Bert says. “I like being active. It’s a little of everything. I drive around and pick up food and see what we have. I see people coming in to get that food. I like seeing it come in and then seeing where it’s going – to the families that need it.”