Today on the blog, we will be highlighting data analysis volunteer Latha Iyer and learn about her expertise and volunteer role!
What is your background and experience in? How does it relate to your volunteer role?
My name is Latha Iyer. I did my schooling in India and have a Masters in Electrical Engineering. I have been in the US since 1983 and worked for major corporations like Continental Insurance Co., AT&T and IBM for over 3 decades. I started as a COBOL programmer but worked in various capacities such as Database Administrator, Systems Administrator, Project Manager and Manager of various Global IT teams.
I have volunteered for multiple organizations throughout my professional life and have been able to use my knowledge of technology to support the IT needs of the organizations. I enjoy supporting not-for-profit organizations by utilizing my skills and experience to enhance their operations. What motivated me to reach out to FFEN is FFEN’s request for individuals with data analysis skills. I took on the current volunteer role with FFEN to support the organization utilizing my skills and experience, while continuing to stay engaged in work that I am passionate about.
How did you get involved with FFEN? How long have you been volunteering with FFEN?
I retired from IBM in 2018 and for two years I assumed babysitting duties for my grandchildren. In June 2020 I found myself with time to spare and started looking for an opportunity to give back. Giving back has always been a part of my life. And, I enjoy coding, working with data and helping organizations utilize technology to improve their operations. I started looking for a remote opportunity that can support my passion as well as provide me with an opportunity to give back during the pandemic. This led me to FFEN’s volunteer opportunity for Food Sourcing Analysis (FSA) support in an AARP communication email. This seemed like a perfect fit for me because it provided everything I was looking for.
I have been volunteering for FFEN since Aug. 2020 and I have been able to support FFEN in multiple areas such as FSA Report creation, Grant writing support for food shelves and looking into the feasibility of implementing a database to support food sourcing data for FFEN. Being a part of the Steering Committee for FFEN also provides an opportunity to contribute to the organization’s growth, implementation of technology and improvement of operations.
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 is totally new to me. When I reached out to FFEN, I had the good intention of giving back, but did not know much about hunger relief. I was initially drawn to FFEN because of the possibility of giving back while doing data analysis, that I enjoy, but after getting involved with FFEN I have realized that there is more to FFEN than data analysis. I am excited about the fact that FFEN’s mission is to help food shelves to better serve their customers. I am learning more about hunger relief efforts as I continue to support FFEN. FFEN’s efforts in helping food shelves transform, particularly to offer fresh food choices to their customers, has shown me that there is a lot that can be done in the hunger relief sector. Hunger is a very basic need and it is rewarding to be able to support efforts for better hunger relief.
What has your engagement looked like with FFEN? What projects or volunteer roles have you been involved in?
I started volunteering for FFEN to support monthly FSA Report creation. Since joining FFEN I have assumed additional responsibilities such as adhoc Report creation, supporting food shelves with grant writing, being a member of the Steering Committee and supporting FFEN to implement a database to hold data used for Food Sourcing Analysis.
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?
Soon after joining FFEN, I took on the challenge of supporting a food shelf with their “Minnesota COVID Food Fund Grant Application (MCFF)” grant application. Since I did not have much grant writing experience prior to joining FFEN, I was a bit apprehensive about my ability to support the food shelf. However, after I met with the Executive Director of the food shelf, I felt that I could handle it. I worked with her to create her application with justification for her funding requests. The best part of the story is that the food shelf received the grant and it enhanced my confidence in grant writing.
How would you describe FFEN’s volunteer program?
I am impressed by FFEN’s volunteer program because of the number of people volunteering for FFEN. FFEN’s volunteers are dedicated to the organization’s mission and are key to the organization’s success. I am happy to associate with FFEN’s dedicated group of volunteers in supporting hunger relief efforts.
How has volunteering with FFEN shifted your learning or understanding of your particular field or hunger relief?
Volunteering with FFEN has given me a new perspective about hunger relief. Prior to joining FFEN, my understanding about food shelves and food pantries was that they supply cans and boxes of non-perishable food to their clients. However, that has totally changed after joining FFEN. It is amazing to see how FFEN has transformed several food shelves in Minnesota into Super Shelves, that enabled them to give better food choices to their clients, while managing costs. The FSA reports play a major role in the discussions with food shelves for their transformation. Being a volunteer in the FSA creation effort, I feel like I have a part in the effort underway to support the food shelves become better in their support of those in need.