Ngonyo Reflects on the Surprises of Food Recovery during her AmeriCorps Service at T2T

Ngonyo gives a "thumbs up" while standing at a free produce stand, colorful produce spread out in front of her.

Table to Table welcomed Ngonyo Mungara to the team in January of 2023 in our final contingent of COVID-19 Recovery AmeriCorps service members. Ngonyo focused on supporting T2T’s daily operations, food rescue routes, free produce stands, and increasing food and vegetable starter plant donations during her half-year term serving in her role of food rescue specialist.

As a student at the University of Iowa majoring in Education Studies and Human Relations with a certificate in Public Health, Ngonyo was drawn to this role at T2T by an interest in learning how nonprofits operate on a day-to-day basis and practice sustainability. “I’ve always been interested in sustainability and reducing waste and I thought food rescue was a really interesting way to help others while also reducing waste,” she says. 

Once she completed her service term, she took some time to reflect on her experience in food rescue:

“Serving at T2T taught me so much more about the Iowa City and Johnson County community.  I never knew there were so many programs and people in our area dedicated to helping those in need.  It also made me happy to learn that many of the businesses I shop at are partnered with Table to Table and are doing their part to reduce food waste and support our community.  It has been a pleasure to work with the T2T staff.  Everyone here has been so helpful, friendly, and welcoming and it has made my time here so enjoyable.  The staff and volunteers here have such a positive and flexible attitude, and that is something that’s needed in this work where each day can be so different.

“My favorite thing about working here was working with different volunteers while filling in on routes.  Going on food rescue routes and helping to recover food for people in need while reducing food waste was such rewarding work.  While on routes, I had many encounters with our partners where they would tell us how much they love what we’re doing and how happy they are that Table to Table exists.  It amazes me that T2T has such a large and dedicated group of volunteers who devote their time to helping support our food rescue efforts.  It was a pleasure to get to know volunteers from so many different walks of life and learn why they like volunteering for T2T… You never get bored at Table to Table! 

“Towards the end of my service term I started to reach out to the cultural grocery stores in the Johnson County area in the hopes that they will consider donating to Table to Table.  Johnson County is becoming an increasingly diverse area and there is a need for more culturally relevant foods in pantries to support these communities.  T2T will continue reaching out to these businesses in the future and we hope that we can find ways to get a more diverse selection of food to our recipients.”

To conclude, we asked Ngonyo to tell us about one of her most interesting experiences on a food rescue route. She remembers: “On one food rescue route we accepted shoes from Natural Grocers. I wasn’t sure which partner would take them, but we ended up delivering them to the Salvation Army hot meal and social assistance site.” The situation turned out to be quite serendipitous: “The woman [greeting us to receive donations at the Salvation Army] was so excited that we had shoes and told us there was a man there who had been needing a new pair for a long time now and had been asking for them everyday.” 

The world of food rescue is truly unpredictable – We usually just collect food! – but thanks to our donor partners’ creativity in keeping resources from going to waste and our food access partners’ deep engagement with community members, we’re delighted to help match occasional donation surprises with community needs.

We were so grateful to have Ngonyo on the team and appreciate the thoughtfulness, dedication, and knowledge she brought to her role!