Ron Starr first got involved with Our Neighbors’ Table after semi-retiring in 2021. He sought something meaningful to occupy his time, and after a few nudges from his neighbor Lyndsey, he became a regular volunteer in our warehouse. When asked about his volunteer experience, Ron said that he thoroughly enjoys the shared sense of community, which makes it easier to connect with everyone. “Nobody has to be here, but we choose to be here today, it really makes the camaraderie easy.”
Some of Ron’s most memorable moments have come from wearing his ONT T-shirt while picking up food orders during his shift. When people see the logo on his shirt, he often hears wonderful testimonials from current or former guests. However, Ron’s most memorable moment as a volunteer was when a store clerk decided to put out a donation cup for ONT. He couldn’t believe the amount of people willing to contribute!
Ron has lived in Amesbury for over 36 years, although he has always been a North Shore resident. He grew up in Danvers before working as the Director of Media Studios at Northeastern University. He has also worked with local news channels and specializes in video production. In his free time, Ron enjoys spending time with his three grandchildren, who he sees about 5 days per week. He is also putting the finishing touches on his June wedding! We’re extremely fortunate to have volunteers like Ron on our team!
Steve Blanchette is no stranger to positively impacting his community. He currently serves on the finance committee at Newburyport Bank, The Firehouse Center for the Arts, Immaculate Conception Parish, and the Saint Basil’s Salvatorian Center. In 2017, he was looking for ways to positively impact his community and began volunteering in ONT’s warehouse. Since then, he has been a cornerstone of our Wednesday Meal by generously donating his time and resources through the Sponsor & Serve program. He first started at the meal to get involved in the community and teach his sons about giving back. He mentioned the importance of “teaching the kids that not everything is about us all of the time. We are in a position to help and it's important that we do.” Steve believes in treating every guest as though they are dining at a 5 star restaurant.
Steve grew up in Georgetown before attending Pennsylvania State University. After graduating, he began work with Alliance Bernstein in New York City and subsequently moved to Newburyport in 2003. In his free time, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, two sons, and Golden Retriever. He also enjoys skiing and playing soccer.
The ONT Market and Meal Sponsor & Serve opportunities offer a unique chance for group volunteer service with a financial commitment. When the “serve” portion of the program was interrupted in 2020, Steve decided to continue his sponsorship and make frequent donations to the Wednesday Meal. When asked about why he wanted to continue his involvement in the program, Steve said, “We weren’t sure where the world was going to be headed at the time and we did not want to leave our ONT community hanging." Steve encourages participating in Sponsor & Serve to support both the volunteers and guests. “You are helping people who are hungry and also helping people who give up so much time for ONT. There is no downside whatsoever.”
Thank you for all of your support Steve!
When/why did you first serve at the meal?
Not exactly sure, We got involved with ONT prior to the pandemic. I have to give my wife credit as she was seeking ideas to get our family involved with volunteering in the community. We found it important to teach our boys community ideals, and learned to help through my business. We sponsored the last time it was available to sit down in person. It was a great experience and we were able to treat the guests like they were at a 5 star restaurant. I tried to maintain how much I was giving throughout the pandemic. No one knew what to do when covid started so we stayed in touch to make sure that we could help. I realized I wanted to commit to something more substantial. I met with Lesley to figure out what I could do moving forward. We were able to still sponsor the meals even though we weren't’ hosting in person.
What did it mean to sponsor through the pandemic even when you couldn’t serve?
We weren’t sure where the world was going to be headed at the time and we did not want to leave our ONT community hangings.
What was it like to come back to serve in 2022?
It was different but it was rewarding and we were grateful for the opportunity. We saw a volunteer named Nancy (Linda) and how much she knew everyone, we felt like our job was to support her and let her engage with the guests. It’s amazing to see how much goes into the program.
What is your favorite part of serving the Wednesday Meal?
I felt such a great feeling from what I was trying to show my kids, I felt like that were spending our time selflessly and teaching our kids the importance of being around a community of people that want to help. Everywhere else you go, people are in it for their personal gain. We wanted something local.
What would you like to tell others who are thinking of participating in Sponsor & Serve?
I feel like its a great opportunity to get involved with the community. It's active- it’s an easy way to do something really nice and help those who need it. Not only the people who are being fed, but also the people who are providing the food. The volunteers have varying schedules and being able to provide an extra hand was a great feeling. You are helping people who are hungry and also helping people who give up so much time for ONT. There is no downside whatsoever. The volunteers have done it a million times and can guide you through the process!
1. How long have you lived in the area?
Since late 2003. Almost 20 years.
2. Where did you grow up?
Georgetown MA, went to school in PA and came back in 2003
3. How long have you been volunteering?
Probably around 2017/2018 in the warehouse and started the Wednesday Meal right before the pandemic.
4. What do you love about volunteering?
I love doing things like that with my family, feeling like we are doing something important and teaching the kids that not everything is about us all of the time. We are in a position to help and it's important that we do. Also, I love what I do for work but I like focusing on other things that don’t include me. I specifically enjoy making people feel at home when they come to ONT and reassure them that there isn’t anything wrong with shopping.
Please share a memorable moment.
It meant a lot to the guests to see young faces and treat everyone like they are at a 5 star restaurant. I remember a lot of nice smiles and grateful people. I also remember some people struggling and being able to help them carry things to their car. It felt good to go the extra step for people.
8. What do/did you do for a living?
I am a financial planner, private wealth advisor, and owner of The Blanchette Financial Group, Inc. After a long career in the financial planning world, I knew I wanted to offer something beyond what the bigger firms delivered, personal touch and a real connection with my clients. I work diligently to help clients and their families achieve their very specific and unique financial goals.
9. What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
I love skiing with my family. I play men’s league soccer and I try my best to support the community. Spend time with my family and try to stay active. My dog is always in my shadow.
10. Are you involved in any other volunteer activities?
My boys are getting older and I am trying to be with them as best I can before they go off to school. I've had to be a bit more selective with my time. He currently serves on the finance committee at Newburyport Bank, The Firehouse Center for the Arts, Immaculate Conception Parish, and the Saint Basil’s Salvadorian Center.
Lisa Hayes came to Our Neighbors’ Table at a crucial time in our growth as an organization. She started in 2019 as a reception volunteer and while she was in the office, saw that some of the data entry processes could be streamlined with a bit of Excel expertise. After Lisa completed that project, ONT Executive Director, Lyndsey Haight, and Program Director, Lori Townsend, found out about Lisa’s professional background in supply chain management. They asked if she could help automate and review the ONT inventory system. Lisa became an integral part of automating food procurement, budgeting, and shifting ONT programs to the SmartChoice online ordering system at the start of the pandemic. This made huge strides in ONT’s ability to organize and efficiently distribute food through our Warehouse and Market, and to be able to pivot quickly to a curbside model when Covid-19 ceased in-person shopping.
“Lisa came in with a "can do" attitude, knowledge at a level far above our own, and was able to work with us to listen to what our needs are. She thoughtfully developed systems that responded to our needs and supplied the expertise, leadership, learning and tools to implement the systems,” Lori said of Lisa’s impact, “The time, energy and patience she has devoted to ONT have resulted in some colossal improvements to our operations - things that no one else could do - that have been an essential contribution to our ability to provide for our guests and accomplish our mission.”
Lisa says she loves “being able to help ONT achieve their mission while working with staff members as a volunteer consultant.” Lisa is continuing to help in a leadership capacity as ONT looks to improve operations and evaluate additional changes. With the new inventory system in place, different challenges have become apparent. “The Warehouse and Market are very crowded,” Lisa said, “If ONT had more space, it would allow for better flow when bringing food in and out of the building.” Efficient flow is important because easier volunteer mobility leads to better serving ONT guests.
We’re so thankful that Lisa chose to donate her time and expertise to ONT! Lisa received a bachelor’s in Elementary Education from UNH and a Master’s in Business from UMass Lowell. She retired as a global supply chain manager in 2016 after many years of supply chain work that frequently took her to different parts of Mexico to oversee operations and is currently teaching Supply Chain Management and Six Sigma classes in the graduate program at Southern New Hampshire University. Lisa has lived in the area for her whole life and currently lives in Merrimac. In her free time, Lisa likes to do remodeling projects, gardening, taking her dog, Casper, for walks, and handcrafting for numerous charitable organizations.
ONT Community Champion Award winner Bill Ginivan has always been involved in community service. “It’s in my DNA,” he says, “My parents did it, so it’s always been part of my life.
Bill cooked for other community meals growing up in Malden and later living in Evertett. When the Ginivans moved to Amesbury, they immediately started searching for volunteer opportunities. They settled on ONT after learning of its mission and reputation in the community (Bill's wife Pam is an active volunteer with ONT's Market and guest services team). Bill has been a loyal ONT volunteer for 6 years at the Wednesday Meal, stepping up in the kitchen when our previous crews were ready to retire. He took pride in watching the guests enjoy the meal he had helped prepare.
When the meal turned to takeout during the pandemic, Bill said that the Wednesday Meal team had to “get creative with the menu” so all the guests were able to bring a delicious meal home. Throughout the pandemic, Bill has really brought his heart and soul to the Wednesday Meal. He’s been there working hand-in-hand with our staff, he provides encouragement to volunteers filling new roles. He has even donned the Big Red Suit to make sure our littlest guests still experienced the magic of Christmas.
Bill retired from a civil engineering firm where he had worked for 40 years. He loved his position as a senior designer for the company. For the past 40 years, Bill has been making lovely stained glass window hangings in his free time.
We are so grateful for Bill’s dedication to ONT’S mission and we are happy to name him as one of our Community Champions!
Clarissa Taylor, one of ONT’s 2021 Community Champions, speaks about her introduction to ONT with amusement and fondness. “My friend Murray tricked me,” she starts with a smile, “Murray asked me if I wanted to be part of the Volunteer Appreciation Committee for one meeting and one event.” It turned into significantly more than one meeting and one event, but after 9 years of volunteering, she wouldn’t change it for the world.
Clarissa has volunteered in almost every program area of ONT. Before the pandemic, she prepped in the kitchen for the Wednesday Meal and was a fixture at the Market on Saturdays greeeting guests. Her greeting of “It’s so nice to see you today!” was something every guest looked forward to and, when she went away on vacation, they noticed.
Clarissa is currently using her friendly approach to take guest orders over the phone as an Office volunteer. She loves to take the time to chat with guests before taking their orders. Clarissa recalls her most memorable moment at ONT, “A guest was so glad that I called because I am usually the only phone call she gets each week.”
Clarissa also donates her fabulous penmenship skills to ONT and chances are you’ve might have received a birthday or holiday card signed by her hand! Clarissa has lived in Amesbury for 36 years after growing up in Lawrence, Massachusetts. She was a speech therapist at Amesbury Public Schools before retiring. She loves to walk, read, travel, and watch her 5 grandchildren in her free time.
By Eve Lee, Chair of Our Neighbors' Table Board of Directors
Are you looking for a new way to share your time and talents with Our Neighbors’ Table (ONT)?
The ONT Board of Directors is currently seeking new members for both the board and for several of our committees. You don’t have to have previous experience serving on a non-profit board, but that’s certainly a plus.
Prior to joining the ONT board three and a half years ago, I had been volunteering at ONT for about a year or so, and I was also a member of the Fundraising committee. The mission of ensuring food security has always resonated with me, and it’s where I have chosen to focus most of my volunteering over the past 20+ years. After quickly realizing how special the ONT community was, I knew I wanted to do more.
But, in all honesty, I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to join another board. I had served on the board of another organization for four years, and I didn’t love it. I loved volunteering at the other place. I loved being on their fundraising committee. But, the board, eh, not so much. It wasn’t for me. The meetings felt like an extension of my already long workday. It wasn’t much fun and I didn’t feel a fulfilling connection to the mission. It felt like work.
But the Our Neighbors’ Table board is different. That’s not to say that being on the ONT board isn’t work – because it is. It’s a serious commitment. We have bi-monthly meetings and often have conference calls in between. We are expected to do our homework - whether that be reading reports, reviewing financials, or learning how to become more effective board members – and to come to meetings prepared to weigh in on important decisions. I feel like I’m an integral part of the mission to ensure that food security becomes a reality in our region. And, there’s not one board member who isn’t there for that same reason. In every board meeting, that singular mission shines through and guides all that we do.
And, like everything associated with ONT, the board is made up of the nicest group of people you could ever hope to meet. I’ve had the good fortune to get to know so many interesting, smart folks whom I might not have met otherwise. I learn something from each of them every time we meet – and I’ve made some great new friends.
But, really, the best part of serving on the board is partnering with Lyndsey Haight and the entire ONT staff. It is an honor to be able to support their vision - and the hard work that they do every day.
If you are interested in learning more about board membership – or serving on any of the various ONT committees – please reach out. I would be happy to share my experiences and answer any questions. The ONT Board is hosting a Meet & Greet on Tuesday, October 26 after the Annual Breakfast. RSVP to join us (either in-person or virtually) to chat more about the board opportunities. Hope to see you there!
Volunteer, Jeanne Langis, has been helping out with Our Neighbors’ Table’s markets for about five years. “I heard about them (ONT) and I grew up kind of hard and I wanted to give back,” said Jeanne. Thanks to Jeanne, our Market has been stocked over the years and has made sure the Newburyport Market is also set up and ready to go. Throughout the entirety of the pandemic, Jeanne has volunteered three times a week making sure all the dry goods are packed for every guest’s grocery order. “For months and months I asked if she needed or wanted to take a day off and she always said no. She might have taken three days off since March 2020. She’s wonderful,” said Market Manager, Hannah. Jeanne has been a constant in a year filled with change. “I love the people and the idea that I’m helping people, that I’m making a contribution,” said Jeanne. When asked for a memorable moment, she said “There was this little girl. And it broke my heart. She reminded me of my grandchild. She had to ask me some things and it just broke my heart.” Jeanne has lived in the area for 45 years. She retired from working for the IRS and now has some free time. “I like to garden vegetables and flowers and I babysit for my grandchildren.” Thank you to Jeanne for all of her hard work, not only during the pandemic, but these past five years at ONT.
Bob regularly volunteers as a driver and in the Warehouse, but Mike our Director of Supply Chain and Logistics, also considers him our innovative engineer as he has built “skateboards” for warehouse storage, custom sized pallets for storage of milk, and many odds and ends around the warehouse to make it safe and efficient. He has held many different roles in the organization including time on the committee for site selection which ultimately brought ONT to the Jardis-Taylor Center. Once the building was all set Bob helped build up the Warehouse. “When I was a young man, I worked professionally in warehousing…We were trying to develop a system and I was able to inject my experience into a place that hadn’t done this before.”
This is not the only way Bob has been able to utilize his professional experience at ONT. He has volunteered much of his life including two years of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Chicago and Wisconsin. As an advocate for seniors, his work as the director of the Housing Authority has easily translated to our grocery delivery at Towers and Powwow.
“It has been a joy for me to work here and use the knowledge I have. I want to help the people who have no place to go and are food insecure. I love food. I love to cook and I love to feed folks,” said Bob on his experience at ONT.
Bob recognizes the growth of ONT and how the organization eventually reached the Jardis-Taylor Center. “It was the whole mentality ‘We will survive. Our mission has to survive.” No matter where ONT is located, the energy lives on. “It’s a wonderful organization and I love the comradery here because nobody is here to do anything but to do good. You don’t have to question people’s motives. It’s a relaxing place to work where you can walk away knowing you did something worthwhile. It’s a good way to spend your retirement.” Thank you to Bob and to all the wonderful people that have grown with us at Jardis-Taylor Center these last five years!
Meet the dynamic father and son duo, Dave and Sam Lyman! Jen, Dave’s wife and Sam’s mom, had attended volunteer orientation in early 2020 and introduced the rest of her family to the organization. Knowing that the pandemic was impacting so many people, Dave and Sam wanted to give back by doing something at ONT. They began volunteering in ONT’s Warehouse, helping to ensure the Market is well-stocked and ready to go for our grocery packers.
As long-time Newburyport residents, both Dave and Sam love helping to put food on their neighbors’ tables. They see behind the scenes of how much work goes into the logistics of the Market and what a big impact the time they give as volunteers makes. “I like helping out and knowing that I am doing something good for the community,” Sam said.
They also enjoy the experience of being able to volunteer together. “On the ride home together after moving boxes and setting up the shelves for the next day brings some great conversations about how fortunate we are that we can volunteer, and that ONT is a great organization that helps so many people,” Dave said.
In their free time, the Lymans are a sporty crew! Sam, a senior at Newburyport High School, plays golf, tennis, lacrosse, and hockey. Both Dave and Sam are avid skiers in the winter and try to get out boating as often as possible in the summer. They take their passion for boating very seriously in the Lyman household, as Sam works seasonally at the Freedom Boat Club and Dave volunteers at the American Yacht Club to help publish their monthly newsletter called the Sailorgram. We’re so glad that they chose to dedicate some time to ONT as valuable members of our volunteer force!