For food bank volunteer, service is a family affair

June 24, 2021

Volunteer Tammy Goodman’s work at St. Vincent Centers Food Bank in Union Gap, Washington, is a family affair of sorts.

Goodman, 50, is the lead volunteer at the center run by Catholic Charities Serving Central Washington in the Diocese of Yakima and has been involved for the past eight years. She succeeded her father as lead volunteer three years ago. He had served in the position for six years before that.

She recruited her daughter, Cheyenne, 21, a student at Eastern Washington University, her brother, Roger Cambais, who often picks up supplies, and her boyfriend, Paul Compton, who unloads a delivery truck one day a week.

“I liked it. I enjoyed it and I just continued,” Goodman told Catholic News Service about how her service started.

“I like meeting new people and helping. My volunteers are like family so that makes it nice,” she said.

Goodman spends four days a week, seven or eight hours a day, at the center in Union Gap, adjacent to Yakima. She boxes and distributes food, picks up donations at local restaurants, bakeries and churches, and keeps the other volunteer organized and upbeat, especially since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Her work earned her Catholic Charities USA’s 2021 volunteer of the year award.

Becki Lambert, volunteer manager for Catholic Charities Serving Central Washington, credited Goodman for helping make St. Vincent Centers more than a food bank.

“It is that they have a great team, people who like each other and respect each other and they work well together,” Lambert said. “Tammy is doing a great job. They make a great team and she makes sure everything runs really smoothly.”

Lambert described the atmosphere at the food bank as an extension of Goodman’s family and neighborhood. “It’s contagious. She’s got everybody volunteering there,” she said.

“It’s people who like each other and respect each other and they work well together,” Lambert continued. “I love sending volunteers over there because I know that that’s a place where they will fit in and be loved.”

Goodman’s schedule varies by day. On Mondays, she receives grocery deliveries. On Tuesdays and Fridays, she’s onsite by 6 a.m. to coordinate volunteers for distribution. On Thursdays, she begins her day around 8 a.m. and makes the rounds picking up donated food.

“It’s helping people in need. At certain points in my life, I was in need, too. I always had someone helping me. I’m just giving back,” said Goodman, who moved to Yakima from Florida with her family in 1981 as a 10-year-old. It was not long after the explosive eruption of Mount St. Helens.

Goodman’s work got the challenge of a lifetime in early 2020 when the pandemic was declared by U.S. public health officials. The center’s work required innovation in response to the social distancing and sanitation restrictions put in place. The first U.S. surge of COVID-19 cases occurred near Seattle, about 150 miles away.

Goodman, a member of Holy Family Parish in Yakima, and her crew were able to keep the food bank operating, even as the need for food more than doubled.

“We had to change it up quite a bit,” Goodman recalled. “We had to move everything outside because we couldn’t have people come inside. We started a drive-thru.”

The first step came in moving food delivery outdoors. Then when cars jammed the street and police asked them to make changes, they adjusted the traffic pattern in the food bank parking lot.

Despite the growing need, Goodman said, St. Vincent Centers never ran out of food.

“We’ve been lucky to have a lot of donations. Churches have been helping out. We’re reaching out to every store and every company we could think of,” she explained.

Lambert said the drive to help others is what she appreciates about Goodman.

“You can see an extension of Tammy’s community there,” she said.

Goodman will be recognized during Catholic Charities USA’s annual gathering in September in San Diego.

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