Volunteer Profile: Julia Sweet

Today we will be highlighting data analysis volunteer Julia Sweet and learn more about her volunteer role and expertise.

How would you describe your background and experience? How does it relate to your volunteer role? I was in academia and education for fifteen years before I moved back to MN to

be closer to my family. While I was here, I started taking classes in data

visualization and analysis. While the data visualization and analysis classes relate

directly to the food sourcing analysis work that I have done, my background as an

educator prepared me to support other volunteers who are creating food sourcing

analyses for the first time. How did you get involved with FFEN? How long have you been volunteering with

FFEN? I really enjoyed my data visualization and analysis classes and decided pretty

quickly that I was interested in working with data more closely, so I began

searching for volunteer opportunities in the fall. I found FFEN through

VolunteerMatch and I attended my first meeting in October of last year. I began

volunteering more regularly starting in January 2020.

Did you have any involvement with hunger relief efforts prior to FFEN? Can you talk about what drew you to this cause and why it's important to you?

Hunger relief has always been important to me. Food is more than just something

to fill bellies—it’s also an expression of culture, love, community, and creativity.

It’s essential for our biological survival, of course, but I think we often forget out

important it is to us psychologically. We take it for granted. Seeing the

documentary A Place at the Table really showed me just how prevalent and

damaging food insecurity can be, and it inspired me to be more actively involved

in the efforts to provide hunger relief. Before moving to MN, I began

volunteering with HopeLink, a large non-profit in the Seattle area. I volunteered

at one of their food banks. I did cooking demonstrations or helped sort donations

every week. What does a typical FFEN engagement or project look like for you? I have been involved in a few different projects for FFEN. I usually work on the

Food Sourcing Analyses, but I also did some geocoding to help support another

project. I love transforming rows of data from a spreadsheet into insight that

will help food shelves in my community understand how to serve their clients

better. Do you have any particular stories or moments from your work that you would like to

share with readers? Something that illustrates the meaning and importance of the work or

how you engage with FFEN's mission? One thing that really stands out to me is how diverse the volunteer group is and

how well we come together. There are people of different ages and experience

levels, from students to seasoned professionals. We all have different motivations,

interests, and life circumstances, but when we come together, none of that

matters. We’re all working toward the same goals, and we all support one another.

The shift to remote meetings hasn’t changed that at all. How has volunteering with FFEN shifted your learning or understanding of your

particular field or hunger relief? I’ve learned a lot about hunger relief in particular. Before volunteering with

FFEN, I didn’t know that there was a difference between a food bank and a food

shelf, and I didn’t know how food shelves sourced their food. It has been

fascinating for me to see just how much variation there is among food shelves in

terms of where they source their food, how much they are paying (and for what),

and what they are able to offer their clients. I’ve also learned about the process of

converting to a Super Shelf model, and I’m enjoying learning more about how

that shift can change product mix and cost.


To learn more about FFEN’s mission and how you can help click here.