Remembering Benny Hawkins, T2T food rescue route volunteer

Benny stands next to the T2T van holding milk and bakery donationsBenny Hawkins, Sr., a former Table to Table food rescue route volunteer, passed away on August 31 at the age of 91.

Benny Hawkins, beloved T2T volunteer, rescued food on his weekly Wednesday route until the age of 89. Known for his warm conversations and genuine interest in the folks he met, we looked forward to seeing him every week and hearing stories from his decades of travel, sense of humor, and hugs. 

Benny began volunteering on his weekly food rescue route in 2016. His longtime route partner, Bryan Clemons, remembers his friendship with Benny fondly:

“It was a pleasure to work with Benny when we were volunteers at T2T. Because we had known each other for years as dental colleagues, we had many things to talk about. We both had served as officers in the U.S. Air Force, and that gave us even more common ground.

I was usually the driver on our food rescue route, and it was easy to get so involved in our conversations that I could miss a turn. Fortunately, Benny was always gracious in redirecting me, and then we enjoyed a good chuckle.

Benny was a man who was kind to everyone he met. He had a great sense of humor and was quick to see the funny side of any situation and flash his wonderful smile. He had definite political opinions and was willing to discuss them if you asked, but he did not try to push his views on you.

Benny chats with another volunteer in the T2T office
Benny loved to have a good conversation with people of all ages while volunteering at T2T.

Several years ago, Iowa Public Television asked for permission to do a short documentary about the mission of Table to Table. They interviewed Emily [Meister, T2T Program Manager at the time], and she requested that a videographer go on a route to show what happened when food was being rescued. Benny and I were chosen as the team to record. We became ‘immediate IPTV stars,’ and Benny reveled in that ‘honor’ with a twinkle in his eye.

We were both sad to leave T2T when Covid-19 became a problem. However, we continued to see each other and share stories during the Wednesday morning retired dentists’ coffee hour after we had received our vaccinations. 

Everyone who knew Benny was fortunate to have Benny call them a friend.”

Benny sits on a folding chair on the street, watching volunteers create T2T's chalk drawing
Benny always joined T2T for MidWestOne Bank’s Rock the Chalk event.

Executive Director, Nicki Ross, remembers his kindness and welcome when she began in 2017. Shortly after starting she and the program manager were asked to present at a regional food recovery conference, the first big audience for either of them. Benny offered to be an audience of one in run-throughs of the presentation, keeping it light and offering kind and helpful feedback. “When we faced our big audience, it was Benny’s face I pictured. His support made me a better public speaker and presenter of the T2T mission,” Nicki remembers. “He also joined us for every MidwestOne Bank Rock the Chalk – getting down on the pavement to color in the designs or holding and entertaining my 5 month old while we worked. Benny was a gem and we will miss him dearly.” 

“Benny epitomized the best of everything as a T2T volunteer and as a human being,” T2T volunteer Steve Gallagher adds. “I’m so glad I became acquainted, however briefly. He had a kind, gentle, warm aura and people loved him. The world lost a beautiful human being in him.”


In the archives 

We found Benny’s volunteer spotlight from a few years back: 

What’s one of your favorite memories from your time volunteering with Table to Table? Interesting people I have worked with.

Do you volunteer at other area organizations? If so, where? Formerly, Meals on Wheels for four years.

Benny stands with a group of Mandela Washington Fellows and T2T staff members outside by the T2T fleet
Benny enjoyed welcoming Mandela Fellows visiting Table to Table with Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities in 2018.

What is/was your occupation? Dentist, Periodontist, Faculty Dental College.

What are your hobbies? I enjoy word puzzles.

What’s a fun fact you’d like to share about yourself? Lived in seven states, including England during my Air Force career.

Where are you from? Originally Chattanooga, Tennessee.

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be? My oatmeal and fruit breakfast.