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Keith Burgeson

Keith Burgeson (left) is an AmeriCorps Volunteer who from southern New Jersey, he is currently working at the Second Harvest food distribution center that distributes food to nearly 250 food banks in the inland northwest. Second harvest has distributed nearly 1.7 million pounds of food each month. This center helps combat hunger in the Inland North West and has helped feed all across the Inland North West.

Interview by Dana Le Roy

May 2012

    I’m originally from southern New Jersey; I have a degree in public relations, advertising, and marketing. Upon graduating in 2008 I realized that advertising can be a fairly lucrative business but not fulfilling, at least not for me. So I decided to apply to AmeriCorps and I went to work for the Maine Conservation Corps on an Island dealing with wild life management, this had a strong educational component to it where we would teach school children about the ecological  impacts of wild life areas. The primary focus was to foster wild life sustainability, through education with these kids. From that experience it sparked a realization in me that I don’t want to just work for marketing or advertising.

            After I did a term of service in Maine I applied to a position out here in Washington through AmeriCorps which, you don’t do for the money you do for the experience. I had the increasing desire to work in the non-profit field. So I took this position here in Washington and what I do, is oversee two programs, the Plant a Row for the Hungry which is basically a people helping people initiative where I work with small farmers, back yard gardeners, community gardens and school gardens as a community resource. We put on workshops and do educational outreach with children.  The idea behind the program is to capture surplus produce. So for gardeners we give them education and seeds and in return they give us their surplus crop. And, just as a side note, we were the number one Plant a Row program last year in the country; collectively we procured 286,000 pounds of fresh produce. The other program I oversee is a gleaning program; the idea behind the gleaning program is that we get the surplus crop of local small scale farmers.

            The couple terms of AmeriCorps that I have participated in have really helped me stream line what I want to do and the whole community development side of what I’m doing right now is very appealing to me especially focusing on food insecurity and  food nutrition. There is such a disconnect in our society with where our food comes from.

            I’m really amazed at this community because a lot of the people I deal with in the Plant a Row Program who donate food to second harvest are people who are also utilizing the food banks themselves. How giving this community is amazing because these people are struggling themselves to get by but they are donating their extra food to help others who are struggling more than them, it’s truly remarkable. It’s mind boggling to me how giving this community is because there is so much food insecurity. In this area one in six people are food insecure and by that I mean that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

            For me profit based work would not be fulfilling, I’m not looking to be some famous philanthropist, I just want to get my hands dirty.