TRAVERSE CITY — Homer Nye and wife Becky Mang weren’t able to accept an award for their exemplary volunteer leadership because the two inveterate volunteers were out of the country … volunteering.
“We were in Cuba,” Becky said, “on a mission trip.”
The two recently received Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan's Mary Stanton Award, in part, for their tireless efforts and leadership with the Food Rescue program, which they were instrumental in establishing in the region. They saw a need to feed the hungry, they said, at the same time food was being thrown away.
Food Rescue, established in 2008, takes food from local grocery stores and markets that would normally throw it away and distributes it to food pantries in the area. The program started with just two participating stores, Oleson’s and Oryana in Traverse City, and has grown to include almost every market in five counties, plus several farms and farmers, said Brendon Seng, Food Rescue director.
“The food that grocery stores are donating is not food customers are going to see,” he said. “It’s too close to the expiration date. Stores have a choice: let it go bad and throw it in the dumpster or give it to Food Rescue before it goes bad.
“When Homer and Becky first got Food Rescue up and running, we collected 600 pounds of food a week and delivered it to families in Grand Traverse County,” Seng said. “Fast forward to today. We are collecting and delivering 33,000 pounds of food a week and feeding many, many hungry people in five counties. It had to start somewhere, and it started with these two people.”
The Mary Stanton Award is given annually to those who best exemplify the spirit of Goodwill and Goodwill’s mission statement, said George Powell, Food Rescue co-founder and Advisory Board member, who accepted the award on Nye and Mang's behalf at Goodwill's “In Unity with Community” luncheon in March.
“Goodwill’s Mission, specifically, is to help people overcome barriers to their independence, and these two have really done that all their lives, not only with the Food Rescue but with Safe Harbor and all of their other volunteer work as well,” Powell said. “They easily deserve this award.”
Nye and Mang see it a bit differently. They deflect credit and recognition for their own volunteer work onto others, especially to the members of the First Presbyterian Church in Traverse City.
“It wasn’t just us,” Mang said, “Homer had been at the church as pastor for 25 years, and we had the resources and a congregation that wanted to do the work.”
They also give credit to each other: Nye to Mang for her ability to organize people, Mang to Nye for developing good relationships with others.
The pair are known throughout the community for their involvement in all kinds of volunteer work and leadership. They helped their church begin hosting Safe Harbor, the area’s ecumenical approach to sheltering the homeless during winter months and are caretakers of Traverse Area District Library’s ‘Little Library’ in their neighborhood,
Nye is co-chairman of the committee to raise money for the new comprehensive cancer center planned by Munson Healthcare, Mang tutors with the Grand Traverse Area Literacy Council.
They both participate in mission trips, and, on a one-year road trip around the country after Homer’s retirement in 2010, they didn’t get very far before they stopped to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in Texas.
In short, volunteer work is simply their nature.
"We’re not beach people,” Mang said. “It’s nothing special, it’s what we like to do.”