From the front line to the front office, Phyllis McNamara is a well-known, welcoming face at Boulevard Place Food Pantry—and in June she marks a milestone that we’re taking time to celebrate.
Amazingly, this will be Phyllis’ 11th year as a volunteer for us. Not only does she work a client-facing shift on Thursdays, but she also serves as the chair of our board of directors.
The longtime Christ the King parishioner became a volunteer at Boulevard Place as soon as it opened in 2012, six months after retiring from her job that ended precisely at 11:11 a.m. on November 11, 2011. (In her “working days” she managed a medical practice office).
At the Pantry she’s never missed a shift and fondly recalls when the operation was finding its footing at 4202 N. Boulevard Place. Even in the early days it has always been a significant contributor to food relief for the poor and needy in Indianapolis.
The Pantry has a great rotation with more than 100 volunteers—it’s one of our longstanding traditions. In some months there is a bit of a wait to secure a shift but it’s worth it. Contact our coordinator Amy Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org) to sign up or come shadow on a shift to see if it’s a good fit for you.
“I cannot emphasize enough how appreciative I am of every volunteer that we have, and of every volunteer minute that they give—and it’s all those volunteers aligned to our mission who make the Pantry what it is,” said Matt Hayes, Boulevard Place Pantry director. “Phyllis embodies the spirit behind our diligent, compassionate mission of providing emergency food relief. Above all else she’s just a great person. We’re lucky to have her.”
Next to Mark Varnau, director from 1989 to 2016 (and a consistent “helper” presence since 2016), Phyllis is our longest continuously-serving volunteer and at 77 shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, her fellow Thursday shift volunteers lovingly refer to her as the ‘energizer bunny,’ a reference to a toy’s batteries that don’t seem to run out.
“I failed retirement,” Phyllis, a grandmother of two, joked. “Seriously, this is a calling—they’ll have to wheel me out of here. I love these people. They feel safe here, and so I try to make it a place that they can feel comfortable.”
“This is their pantry,” she added. “The majority of our clients are regular shoppers but there’s also people coming here for the first time. They are so embarrassed to be here, from elderly folks on a fixed income to the mother with two small children clinging to her side.
“I will reassure them there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Offering our 17 to 25 items weekly means they can use what little money that they have to pay their light bill or fix their car. They aren’t always going to need us, but today they do. So today they are shopping and it’s one thing they don’t have to worry about. Plus, if it comes from our pantry it is going to be nutritious and delicious and well thought out.”
After starting as a volunteer in 2012, she also joined the board a short time later after an invitation from then-pantry director Cindy Brown. Elevated to chair soon after, she presides over each meeting and can share insights into what’s happening at the client level – the victories and the challenges.
She relates to clients well – more than even they realize. Phyllis tells her clients that her own personal income technically allows her to qualify for food assistance if she ever needed it. That helps clients feel more at ease after they’ve walked through our green client entry door.
She takes volunteering seriously and encourages others to follow in her footsteps.
“If all you’ve got is money or food to provide, we are delighted and grateful to take those types of helpful donations. But we’ll also take your time. And it was Jesus’ instruction to us, ‘I’m telling you—take care of the poor; feed the poor, I’m telling you to do it.’ So that’s what we do.”