Michael Karp's Volunteer Journey

September 22, 2021

Michael Karp's Volunteer Journey

To say that JF&CS is grateful to their volunteers would be a huge understatement. Volunteers help almost every aspect of JF&CS work better and more efficiently. They help stock the food pantry. Drivers deliver food, transport those that can’t get around and help Holocaust survivors get to events. They help guide the organization as board members and provide role models to children in single-parent families as a part of our PAL Program, Atlanta’s Only Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister Program. They spread smiles at the dental clinic and with older adults through One Good Deed and the AgeWell Atlanta program. They work everywhere from the front desk, to behind the scenes and everywhere in-between.

A great example of someone giving back is Michael Karp. After recently retiring and having lunch with a friend, “We were just talking about how we both just retired, and he says, ‘you know they’re looking for drivers to deliver meals to Holocaust survivors. It’ll give you something to do one day a week,’” Michael recalled. “I thought it sounded good and so I called JF&CS and volunteered.”

His goal after over four decades of holding leadership roles in retail, recruiting and medical businesses was to “just do projects.” He wanted to be able to go in, have a task worth doing, get it done and be able to go home having accomplished something for a good cause. So, he signed up to deliver some meals and then for a shift in the Kosher food pantry.

“The first time I worked in the pantry, I came home thinking, ‘Maybe, maybe. We’ll see, we’ll see,” said Michael.

That “maybe” evolved into over 200 volunteer hours since February. “I now pick up the donations from Costco and Target. I unload the truck from the Atlanta Community Food Bank. I do whatever needs doing. Jennifer Weissman, the Food Pantry Manager calls me her ‘special projects guy’. But it’s all project based.” He’s helped with delivering gifts to donors, assisted older adults moving out of their homes, delivered food to Holocaust survivors and organized the food pantry.

Win-Win Situations for Volunteers

“It’s perfect for me,” says Michael. “I’m able to help Jennifer and the staff out and it fits perfectly with what I want to do. I don’t want to manage anyone. I don’t want to oversee anything. No politics are involved. I can just go in and help.”

Each volunteer is different and wants different things. Some want to build long-term relationships within JF&CS’ PAL and One Good Deed programs. Others can help by planning fundraising events. There’s room for everyone’s talents at JF&CS.

For Michael, he can use the skills he learned over 25 years in retail. According to him the concept of working in a food pantry and working in a retail store is very similar. “You categorize, make it look neat and nice. A neat stockroom leads to a neat sales floor. You must think about how people see things. How do you make the products look nice and appealing so that people know you’re putting in the effort?” That effort gets noticed.

“Some of the people who come to the pantry know my car now. They see it when they pull in and they come say hello. They are so appreciative for the simplest little things you do for them,” says Michael. “I love that instant gratification. Your action today gets acknowledged that day.”

“My favorite part is when I pick up from Costco or Target and they have more than can ever fit into my Honda Pilot. I figure out exactly how to get all that food into my car. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. I max that car out. The most I’ve gotten is 1300 lbs. of food at one time.” As Michael says, “It’s so much fun to see the volunteers’ faces when I drive up with all that food. They’re like ‘how did you get all that in there?’”

“I also know that the first things that need to come out are the frozen items, then the refrigerated items, then the dry goods. So, I have to organize everything a certain way.” Michael, as with many of our volunteers, truly put a good deal of thought and care into their volunteer work. Michael now knows the people who come to the pantry. He knows one client has cats so when Target donates cat litter, he makes sure she gets a box. When another woman asked for cheese one week and it wasn’t at the pantry, he makes sure she gets some the next week.

Giving And Getting

Volunteering is a good way to give of oneself, but it also isn’t a one-way street. Most everyone that works with the volunteers are incredibly thankful. They help deliver the “instant gratification” that Michael talks about. As Michael puts it, “The managers at JF&CS go out of their way to say thank you. It makes you feel good. That’s kudos to the organization. They make sure to let people know that their efforts are appreciated.”

Jennifer Weissman, program manager at the food pantry truly appreciates Michael and the time and effort he puts into every project.

"Michael does so much for the food pantry, and with each task he takes on, he goes above and beyond my expectations. He has two of our Second Helpings Atlanta routes, picking up donated food weekly from Costco and Target, and he always stays to put everything away and to make sure our shelves are fully stocked and ready for our shoppers. I've come to rely on Michael to unload our purchases from the Atlanta Community Food Bank, and he takes great care in stocking and displaying food for easiest access. Michael also delivers groceries to some of our homebound clients, and he has picked up donations from synagogues. Our staff and volunteers appreciate his hard work, his leadership, and his sense of humor. We're lucky to have him," she said.

Of course, it’s also about giving back. JF&CS works with so many populations that there are a lot of ways to improve people’s lives. Volunteers can work with so many different people in the community. They can work behind a desk, in a car or at a fundraising party, with children or seniors.

As Michael puts it, “JF&CS checks all the boxes. Complete flexibility, you can basically pick whatever activity or event interests you. The program managers that I’ve met are all exceptionally nice. If you want to commit to one day a month, you can commit to one day a month. There are no real requirements or barriers. And it’s the nicest group of people.”

If you’re interested in volunteering for JF&CS, you can reach out to Deena Takata at 770-677-9448 or visit the volunteer portal.