By Grace Hoening 

I have worked with MEANS since June 2019 when I started as an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) Outreach intern at the age of 16. My passion for food recovery started at the ELCA World Hunger Leadership Conference. I tagged along with my mom and grew into a passion I wanted to keep pursuing. I was able to hear Maria Rose Belding, one of our co-founders, speak at different events and connected with her because I was instantly inspired by MEANS. It just made sense. There were some minor details I needed to work out such as moving to Washington DC, but I was determined to find a way. After an interview and working out details with Sammie Paul, I was on a flight to DC.

While I was younger than most of my coworkers, I never felt that way. I was always treated as an equal regardless of my age or experience. The work environment that summer and even now while we are virtual is better than I could have asked for. It has given me valuable relationships and life experiences. From working on spreadsheets and making calls to recording for TV shows and spending time with the MEANS team, I am forever grateful for that summer and the memories and experiences that came with it.

My First Work Trip

That summer, I went to a conference in Minnesota. It was such a full circle moment because my coworkers and I were helping Maria Rose write one of her speeches. The summer prior I was sitting in the audience learning about MEANS and now I was getting to help share our story. I also was able to present at the conference with Emily Dwyer and Julia Uricheck. We shared some of the crazy donations we’ve recovered such as ketchup packets or excessive amounts of Gatorade. As a new intern at MEANS, they gave me the opportunity to meet partners and share our story.

When I started working at MEANS we were in an office. Saying goodbye was hard because I didn’t know if I’d ever get to see anyone again. When the world shut down due to COVID-19, MEANS invited me and other previous employees to come back and work online. Over COVID, it gave me a sense of community that I needed and also provided me with things to do when all of my normal high school extracurricular activities were canceled. Now that we are all virtual, I am able to continue working with MEANS 4 years later. 

Personal and Professional Growth

MEANS has helped me grow as a person. Part of that being because I have worked here at a pivotal time of my life from finishing high school all the way through college. It has helped give me professional experience while still having flexibility around my busy college schedule. Over the years, I have been mentored by different team members about working on social media and making graphics to sending emails and fundraising. The MEANS team has both helped me grow as an individual and professional. At MEANS, I’ve always been encouraged to work with my strengths. I’m a music major, so while I’m not writing MEANS a theme song, I am working on creative aspects such as video editing, social media posts, and graphic design. I made Can Man as a joke and now we regularly use him in fundraising and social media. 

MEANS encourages me to use my creativity in different ways every day. It has helped me become the person I am today. Working with MEANS has been an amazing opportunity, I would recommend it to anyone. You might not feel tech savvy or like you don’t know enough about food recovery, but you will learn and there’s an amazing team by your side who is ready to answer any questions. Right now we are moving more food than ever before. We are always accepting volunteers and you can keep your eye out for internship positions with us too! It doesn’t matter your age, if you want to help, we’ll find a way. What matters is that we waste less and feed more, together.