Gina Howey, and her husband, Walter Burstein, were busy family doctors in Ventura County before they went into semi-retirement and began volunteering with Food Share in 2020. They stopped to chat on their way back from an early morning “bread run” about Gina’s passion for truck driving and how food insecurity can hide in plain sight.

“A Harvester newsletter came to the house, and I was reading about volunteer opportunities,” says Gina Howey, explaining how she and her husband, Walter Burstein, found a new occupation “doing the bread run” every Monday morning. “I saw one of the opportunities was to drive a truck. I always really liked driving to the point that my mother in law had a joke with me that if medicine didn’t work out, then Plan B was to be a truck driver. It was a perfect fit!”

Walter was equally enthused, albeit for different reasons. “Gina asked me if I would like to do it. I thought it would be very helpful for people who are food insecure. We were in a vaccine trial at the time, so we were immunized, or at least one of us was, we didn’t know which one got the placebo versus the real, but we were part of the trial. So we had some protection and felt more comfortable going out during the early months of the pandemic.”  

For the uninitiated, “doing the bread run” is a little misleading as it involves picking up unsold food of all types, not just bread, from retail partners like Vons and Ralph’s. Several teams do the run every Monday morning and the resulting food supplements the bulk staple items that Food Share purchases with a more diverse selection of foods, including bread, meat, and dairy products. Gina and Walter measure the temperature or refrigerated foods and, provided it meets safety regulations, work with the retail staff to get it loaded and transported back to Food Share. 

“It’s such a sense of accomplishment to have the truck empty and then by the time you come back, it’s just full of food that’s not going to go to waste and that’s really helping people. Plus, it’s nice to get some exercise for a good purpose, instead of just going on the treadmill,” laughs Gina.  

As doctors, the couple have seen the impact of food insecurity on health and well-being. 

“A lot of times people are eating badly because they don’t have the money to buy vegetables and fruits,” observes Gina. “Good nutrition is critical to good health and so it makes me feel great to volunteer here and be a part of helping families access healthy food.”

She’s also seen first hand how hunger can be a problem hiding in unexpected places. “I had longtime patients – a couple. They were well off and would talk about trips they were taking and the restaurants they would go to,” Gina explains. “Some years after the husband passed away, I saw the wife and she had lost a lot of weight. I couldn’t figure out why until she finally confessed that she didn’t have enough money for food. It was so hard for her to admit it coming from the lifestyle she had been used to.” 

Gina and Walter, who are long-standing monetary donors to Food Share, have enjoyed pulling back the curtain on the operational side of food banking. “It’s well organized,” comments Walter. “From beginning to end everything is set up to run very smoothly. It’s interesting to see it from the volunteer side, and to see how your money is being used. It’s a well run machine, and the employees are fantastic.”

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