From the first meeting, you know Joe has a background in performing comedy. Funny, quick with jokes and full of antics, his energy is upbeat and infectious. He emanates positivity.
So it is a big surprise to hear his story — the tough times he endured before he started to work at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, where he manages volunteers as well as food donations at the Novato warehouse.
Two decades ago, Joe was immersed in a successful career in computers, doing tech support and later testing sophisticated accounting software. Then, one day, the industry shifted, and Joe’s position was outsourced overseas. His career of 17 years came to a screeching halt.
Undaunted, Joe set out to find other work, first in his industry and later relying on the ingenuity every actor must have in his arsenal. But restaurants wouldn’t hire someone who didn’t speak Spanish, and service stations no longer employed folks at the pumps. It was 2008. The recession had just hit. Every job opening big or small was swamped with 100 applicants.
Things got rough for Joe and his wife. Every day he scanned Craigslist for jobs. Even with his wife’s salary as a registered nurse, expenses began to pressure them. Plunging from full-time employment to joblessness was a huge blow.
The demoralizing hunt for work crawled on for a year and a half, and the Food Bank became a lifeline. Never had Joe imagined how grateful he would be for the simple gift of walking into a pantry and being greeted with warmth as he filled a bag with groceries. So, before long, he too began volunteering at the Food Bank — to give back while he continued to look for work.
In a stroke of luck, a position in the Novato warehouse opened up. Joe jumped at the chance. At age 57, Joe had to learn a lot of new skills. There he was, a confirmed vegetarian, sorting donations of frozen meat every day! But he felt motivated by the contribution he was making, and thankful to be earning a living again.
Seven years later, Joe has moved up to be Food Bank Community Engagement Coordinator, and clearly loves his work. He makes volunteers howl with laughter as he plays air guitar or clowns around in his hair net. He inspires them with his dedication and spirit.
Story and photographs by Marilyn Englander, Food Bank volunteer and founding head of REAL School Marin