Volunteer Spotlight: Pre-med student spends year helping the hungry

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

By the time Alicia Hughes graduated with a degree in neuroscience from Washington State University, she’d traveled extensively, spending summers in Thailand and Iraq volunteering with NGOs and working with refugee organizations. She said working with low-income families in other countries made her realize how similar people’s struggles with hunger and poverty throughout the world. 

“These summers changed everything and made me want to use all the opportunity I have to allow others the same.”

How did you decide to work in the food banking/nonprofit industry?

Alicia plans to attend medical school after working at Second Harvest, but wanted to get experience working non-profits in the U.S. before going into a career in public health or medicine. Her background in science, cooking and nonprofit work were a good fit for a nutrition education job.

“I wanted to use my gap year before medical school to serve my own community before moving across the country. Most of my experience working for NGOs and awareness of public health challenges and policy has been overseas. I wanted more exposure to the geographic differences of these issues by working in the US,” she said.
 

What’s one challenge you’ve run into while working here?

“It’s challenging to make a valuable contribution to our programs and the communities I work in in such a short time. The work we do can feel insignificant compared to the immense need of the communities we are in and the problems contributing to food insecurity.

What do you wish more people knew about working at a place like Second Harvest?

Alicia said before she came to Second Harvest, she wasn’t sure food banking was the most sustainable way to end hunger. Since then, she’s started to view things differently.

“I saw it as filling an immediate need that didn’t change the problems at the root of the need,” she said.  While she still views this as a challenge, she knows the work Second Harvest does is a significant part of hunger relief – access to food allows people to meet other longer-term needs.

“Food banking has a long-term impact because feeding everyone, regardless of their circumstance of needing it, affirms the equal inherent value, dignity, and rights of me and them,” she said.

When I give someone food, it reminds me that we are the same; I have just had more opportunity in life. When I give someone food, it reminds them that they are an inherently valuable person, and they can then move forward in their life from a place of value. My ultimate goal is for everyone, especially the most marginalized, to be taken care of and know they matter and they are loved. Food banking is one way to do that.”