By Tom Spalding, Volunteer
In reality, the pantry was undergoing a major facelift. Fortunately, Valerie doesn’t judge a book by its cover; she gave us a second chance and eventually returned, drawn to our mission and culture and beginning a unique tenure of contributions that go way beyond brick and mortar.
Valerie, 67, is officially exiting her paid role as Pantry assistant operations manager. She and her husband — who divide their time between their Indianapolis condo and overseas residences — will focus on more getaways. This is the second “retirement” for the longtime international music educator. Planned getaways include a family home in her spouse’s native Brazil and her sons’ places in Fort Wayne and Bali, Indonesia, respectively.
“It’s bittersweet,” Val said. “I always feel good when I leave here. I feel like I did something useful.”
Matt Hayes, director of the food pantry, said a search is underway to find Valerie’s successor, which is to help Timothy “TJ” Ranft, our operations manager. We have a model in what to look for – organization, drive and compassion.
“Valerie is a prime example of the unique people who we’ve been lucky to have serve our clients and cause,” Matt said. “Those are the people who go the extra mile. She did so first as a volunteer and then as a valued member of our staff.”
Valerie was doing the little things so well as a twice a week volunteer in 2019-20 that when former director Cindy Brown received approval to hire a part-timer to coordinate operations, Valerie was her first choice.
“Her hiring was indicative of our Pantry’s transformation into playing an increasingly prominent role in hunger relief in Indianapolis,” added Phyllis McNamara, board chair, who also became fast friends with Val. “We are almost entirely volunteer, but some critical roles require the services of a compensated professional.”
Valerie stands out for her giving, entrepreneurial mindset, always looking for ways to add to the variety of items offered to clients—from helping to order quality and nutritious food, looking for Direct Agency Pickup through Kroger and Dollar General, to offering up her own family cookbooks to clients during in-person shopping on Thursdays.
“The vast majority of our clients are very, very appreciative and I enjoy talking to them and spending a little time with them and talking about nutrition and just, you know, the weather and just life in general there,” Valerie said.
While she’s worked in multiple states (primarily Oregon, but also Nevada) and multiple countries (Madagascar, Educador and Brazil chief among them), teaching is her favorite thing – she specialized in music education. Valerie was born and raised on a family farm in northeastern Indiana but her stint here at the Pantry was her first experience as a grocery.
Cindy recalls that Valerie started at Boulevard Place, much like other volunteers, by signing up for a shift. She soon became someone who volunteered on a regular basis. Valerie often stayed past her shift doing extra stocking with a “whatever needs to be done, I’m here attitude … a perfect fit.”
Among her many duties, Valerie took charge of ordering food, picking up donations, running the very busy Thursday shift, and overseeing the incoming church donations on Sundays. She has bonded with shoppers over living frugally and her own amazing background (she even wrote a book about it!) Proactively, Valerie saw the need to pay tribute to the many Boulevard Place volunteers who are vital to the pantry. She organized a volunteer picnic, which now has become an annual event.
Fortunately it’s not entirely goodbye.
She plans to come in as much as she can on the same days (Tuesdays, contributing off-load labor, and Thursdays) as a volunteer.
“It’s nice to be out with and meet other people in the nonprofit world that are doing their part in feeding the community,” Valerie said. “Everybody has the same goal. I just love being involved in it.”
Learn more about Val in her autobiography.