A person posing in a volunteer center

Shawnia Johnson - Volunteer Center Coordinator

Shawnia Johnson’s path to becoming the Volunteer Center Coordinator at Second Harvest Heartland started from an unlikely place. During the pandemic shutdowns, Shawnia was volunteering for a nonprofit that served African American youth. While the nonprofit did not deal exclusively in food distribution, restaurants started to donate food with the hopes of getting meals on neighbors’ tables. “The coordinator was like ‘I have no idea what to do with all of this,’” recalls Shawnia. “We set up a food drive right in the middle of North Minneapolis. We would have this table set up for people to come and we would post on social media, like ‘it’s all free—come grab what you need.’”

As word got out, the donations increased. “The more stuff you received, the more help you needed,” says Shawnia. “I was like ‘how about we reach out to some folks and see if we can get some help?’ And that’s how my role became a Volunteer Coordinator role—reaching out to people who were interested in providing resources to the community.”

This role led her to Second Harvest Heartland and her current role as Volunteer Center Coordinator. “The rest was history.”

Shawnia’s role is to oversee Second Harvest Heartland’s episodic volunteers—volunteers who come into the Volunteer Center for the sorting and packing shifts. The Volunteer Center sees around 260 volunteers a day, which translates to a little over 1000 volunteers a week, and 4000 volunteers a month.

“What typically happens is a group will reach out to me and say, ‘we want to set up a group of thirty people to volunteer on this day, can you help us out?’ and what I do is register their team and save slots for them. I also provide shift information: what they’ll be packing and sorting that day.” Shawnia also relays this information to the Volunteer Experience Ambassadors to make them aware of the various teams coming into the Volunteer Center.

Shawnia emphasizes that volunteer engagement is an integral part of cutting hunger in half by 2030 for all Minnesotans. “My role is really expressing how important volunteers are: we cannot do this alone. We need to do it together.”

“Sometimes volunteers come in as a group just because they’re looking for something to do. But at the very end, when our VEAs are doing the outro, they can hear their impact. They can see how many pounds of food they packed. They can see how many meals they provided. It brings a whole new perspective. Not only do they want to come back because it was fun, but they want to be more involved.”

“We always express to them that hunger does not have a face: it just takes one financial inconvenience to be put in this state. So, we let them know how important it is for them to volunteer and how much we appreciate their time, and that they are a major part of us reaching our goals.”