Name: Holli DeWees
Role: Communications Officer – Inventory
Location: Missouri, USA
Coming on board in June 2018 as a Regional Representative for our US – Central activities, Holli has since transitioned into a newly created role for the organization, all the while still playing an active part in our events whenever they occur locally to her. Holli is a fine example of the dedication and versatility that our volunteers bring to Random Acts, and that dedication and versatility in turn is what allows the organization to sustain itself, grow and set and meet new goals for what we want Random Acts to be able to achieve.
But Holli’s volunteer work with Random Acts – particularly her involvement with the past year’s Childhood Hunger campaign – has not only helped to change the lives of others, it’s also pivoted her career in a new direction and helped her to find a professional home where she can heed the same calling.
“I had been in the medical field, specifically the Veterans Administration, for a decade when I joined Random Acts. I loved helping people but in medicine I found that I often could not help many who needed it. Random Acts really appealed to me because the circumstances where we can help are endless.”
“I have been privileged to be a part of several acts that focused on hunger. We teamed up with No Kid Hungry in Kansas City last year, and then in January, during the federal government shutdown, I went to Little Rock for Random Acts. I met some incredible people at the Arkansas Hunger Alliance. We had a makeshift food pantry in a hanger at the airport, it really moved me.”
“It is because of those experiences with Random Acts that I decided to focus elsewhere professionally. Now nine months later, I am the Manager of the Central Pantry and our pantry feeds more 10,000 people a month. Random Acts really did change the trajectory of my life.”
The #LittleRockCares food drive in Arkansas was actually our first endeavor for our 2019 #RANoHungryChild Campaign, and it was truly a one of a kind situation. Due to the unprecedented length of the federal government shutdown, many furloughed employees were struggling to make ends meet, suddenly finding themselves food insecure. Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and the Little Rock airport collaborated to host a donation drive supporting Little Rock’s TSA agents and other federal employees, and in her role as regional rep, Holli brought this event to Random Acts and found a way to offer our support. Holli was able to use Random Acts funding to supply $1000 worth of the drive’s most-needed food items and delivered them in person, and worked the line on distribution day on behalf of Random Acts, helping to supply over 200 families with groceries to see them through.
Seeing the cooperation of so many different organizations and people, all coming together with such urgency was something that Holli says she found beautiful. And she notes that they used a grocery store model, the same model the pantry where she works now uses.
“People go through and select the items they want. There’s a dignity in doing it that way that is incredibly important for many reasons. When someone is in need, it is important that we respond to that in a way that doesn’t strip any humanity. That does not perpetuate any sort of otherness that society may make them feel for being in that position.”
While Holli may not have joined Random Acts with a full career switch in mind, the impact of witnessing and being a hands-on part of what we do, seeing the kind of change we can enact with the right resources and the right support ended up inspiring Holli to put herself on a new path, one that she felt would be a better place for her to sustain her passion for helping others.
“I really loved certain aspects of my job at the VA. I have the deepest respect for our veterans and those who care for them. I found that, over time, it was not a good fit for me anymore. It just became too complicated. I knew I was not entirely satisfied with my career. I was helping people but with our medical system it often felt like I was helping people in spite of my job, not because of it. Now I am part of an organization that, in partnership with many organizations and entities, grocery rescue and donations, feeds 200 or more families a day. I am so much happier.”
When working towards social good, every aspect is important, but at Random Acts we know there is something to be said for seeing direct results in a real and complete way – working towards solving a problem, maintaining a resource or completing a project top to bottom. That is how Holli feels in her new job, and we are so happy that Random Acts helped her to get there. That is what so many of our Acts of Kindness are all about – finding something we can help to fix, and fixing it, plain and simple.
As a regional representative, Holli quickly noticed the importance of getting a feel for what people in her area are specifically looking for when it comes to looking for opportunities for Random Acts to make a difference, and how to approach them. She flagged an issue that has cropped up from time to time when we try to spread the message of what our organization and community can do, one that we always want to combat but one that is very real. It is the moral conundrum of the “humble brag.”
“I live in the Midwest and there is this mindset that you should not share the good things you are a part of because that would be bragging,” Holli says. The mindset in question is one that claims you should not publicize your act of kindness, that if you show it off, document it, post about it, or announce it, then it means you are doing it for credit. It can be tough for some people to come forward and get involved at all, or to tell their stories, for this very reason.
With Random Acts, we always say we see it as more about showing other people examples of what they can step forward and do – how easy it is, or what kind of problems they might realize that it is in their power to fix, especially with Random Acts’ help. Those “top to bottom” take-a-problem-and-eliminate-it acts of kindness are well within reach for many of us, if we start looking out for them, especially by taking notice of what others have found and achieved and using those scenarios to build perspective about what we could achieve.
“I think especially now it is more important than ever that we share kindness, that we connect with each other in that way. Inspire each other. Meeting our supporters, working with them, is very fulfilling because not only are we working together to put something good in this world but we can inspire each other.”
“Getting our supporters to understand that is important because I think that is a large part of the reason many second guess suggesting acts to us. I think the idea of Random Acts – that kindness has no limits, big or small, no matter the country, our organization tackles so many different causes – is unique. I have had several interactions with people I have met through work for example, I have been told that just reading about the types of things we are doing makes them feel better about the state of the world right now.”
Holli also applies the whole “top to bottom” problem solving approach to her new role with Random Acts.
As Inventory Specialist, Holli is responsible for maintaining and ordering all the supplies that we need – the little swag items we give away like stickers, pens, and lanyards, as well as our business cards, expo tents, event specific items like the Giving Back Tour supplies. But her role incorporates a lot more than just placing orders. The bulk of her time is actually spent in researching and sourcing the items that Random Acts uses from suppliers who meet our values.
“One of my favorite things about Random Acts is our awareness of the environment. That mindset goes into every purchase we make. A lot of research regarding a vendor’s carbon footprint, their manufacturing practices and more, are all taken into account before we purchase anything. Rachel is incredibly passionate about that and it is wonderful to be a part of an organization that considers their impact from all angles.”
And that’s not just for the USA, Holli works with vendors all over the world to kit out our volunteers with the items they need when bringing Random Acts to an event. Holli has made a lot of discoveries in doing this research – it has proved very difficult to find vendors that do meet those standards, and oftentimes it takes a lot of digging because they are not upfront about their materials or manufacturing process.
“Often the people I am speaking with do not even know all of the answers and have to do their own research. I have discovered some really incredible companies though that are eco friendly, that do have ethical manufacturing processes, and it gives me some hope because there are more of them now than there used to be.”
One thing about becoming Inventory Specialist that has been easy is the transition from her old Random Acts volunteer position into the new one. “Everyone in Random Acts is so supportive, it was fairly simple,” she says. “One of my duties when I was in the medical field involved pharmaceutical purchasing for hospitals so the role itself was one I am very comfortable with. Honestly it just felt good to be making those purchases with ethical companies, pretty much the opposite of the pharmaceutical industry.”
And as she is the only Random Acts staffer in her area, she still gets the opportunity to work events and meet supporters, which she enjoys very much. Just this year, she has represented Random Acts at the Supernatural Las Vegas Convention where we collected donations for the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, the Denver Brain Run Expo where she connected with IMAlive volunteers on a day all about mental health awareness, the Kansas City Water Lantern Festival, where she helped spread Random Acts’ message of kindness to new crowds, and at Jason Manns’ food drive in his Virginia hometown. And as well as the Arkansas donation drive, Holli has also helped facilitate #RANoHungryChild acts in Arizona, Nevada and Missouri.
Of her busy year with Random Acts, Holli’s favorite memories are the people – our staff, supporters and patrons that she gets to meet when working at Random Acts events.
“Jason is such a lovely person, he helped us move our donations in Vegas. In Virginia, he and his family came out. My daughter and his played together, his wife and parents are such wonderful people. He really cares about the Random Acts mission.”
“I have been lucky enough to meet quite a few other Random Acts staff members. Becky (Writing Manager) Iliana (Graphic Designer) April (Regional Representative – US North West) Amanda (Director of Programming) and Jen (Director of Operations)… they are all amazing and they all bring something different to Random Acts. It is kind of amazing to think of all the people who make up this organization, how all of these different life experiences have led us all to the same place.”
Like many of our Random Acts volunteers, Holli came to the organization through her love of the Supernatural family. “I have done Gish every year since 2014 with the same amazing group of people from all over the world,” she says. “Some of them are my closest friends. One teammate from New Zealand and I even met in the middle and had an amazing vacation. I have a tattoo of the Elopus from that first year because it was the first thing I had really done for myself after the birth of my kids. It led me down this path.” However – again, like many of our volunteers (it is a pattern, and a great one) – Random Acts is not her first time getting involved with giving back and doing social good.
“When I was a child I volunteered at local nursing homes, then when I worked with the VA I volunteered to be on the DEMPS roster (Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System) most often used during natural disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires and so on. Then I was in that first wave of 200 IMAlive volunteers trained when Random Acts began that relationship. I did it for a while but after the 2016 US election we saw such a jump in ‘calls’ and I realized that was not the kind of volunteer work I am suited for. Hats off to the volunteers who do it!”
Random Acts has proved to be a great fit for Holli and we are lucky to have volunteers like her who truly make a difference to the organization and the people we want to help.
In these profiles, we always like to ask the subject of a personal pet project that they might dream of bringing to live with Random Acts some day, and Holli says that after the childhood hunger acts and her change in career, she is more aware than ever about food insecurity, and so that is likely to be a huge focus for her for the foreseeable future.
“So much of the food we get at work comes from grocery rescue. All of the stores in town donate the food they would have thrown out. This is something that could be done everywhere but many communities simply lack the resources for the logistics required to do that. I would love to see Random Acts help needy communities with support to set up their own grocery rescue. That way we would be able to feed those communities indefinitely.”
“But for the moment, I want to continue to help us be the most responsible and ethical organization we can be. Climate change is another issue that is very important to me. Every little thing we can do matters. As far as long term goals, I mostly just want to continue to grow and push myself. I never would have thought a year ago I would be running a food pantry. I want to keep learning from the people I meet and who knows where I will be next year. Where we will all be. I am hopeful.”