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Friday, September 23, 2022

Q&A with New Director of Food Pantries Christine Keller

We spoke with Christine Keller, Catholic Charities’ new Director of Food Pantries, to learn more about the role and ways that people can get more involved in helping address food insecurity. Welcome, Christine!

Christine Keller

Q: Where are you from and how did you become involved in this work?

Christine: I grew up in Indiana, the suburbs of Chicago, and then St. Louis, before moving to the Boston area almost six years ago for my husband’s job. I had just finished a doctorate degree in nutrition biochemistry from Purdue University along with a gerontology minor and ingestive behavior research certificate, where I learned about what drives people to eat and become full––concepts we talk about all the time but may not know the real mechanisms behind. Before that, I worked for about five years at Eli Lily and Company in Indianapolis in Cardiovascular Research & Discovery.

When we moved out here, my church, the Fourth Presbyterian Church of South Boston, needed someone to help with the food pantry. So, I volunteered and I got involved in all aspects of the pantry––doing the shopping, working with the food bank, moving the food, physically loading cases of food from the food bank into our truck, and then into our church for distribution. We also looked at the scale and the way we did things––how we were feeding people and changed up our outreach accordingly.

Q: What excites you about joining Catholic Charities?

Christine: I love that people can go to one location and get so many different methods of support, whether it be an ESOL class, help with living assistance, or getting groceries. It reminds me a lot of my church, we really focus our mission on the neighborhoods that surround us, and that same feeling and momentum and sense of community at Catholic Charities is what I’m really excited about.

What are some ways people can get involved in Catholic Charities food pantries?

Christine: I think people hear food pantry and they think just of handing out groceries, but there’s a ton of different, exciting things that are happening at the pantry behind the scenes. We need people who can be welcoming and answer basic questions for clients. We always need translators to serve non-English speaking clients. We need help moving food in and out of the pantry, as well as packing bags or stocking shelves. And, we have just rolled out an improved method to help us track clients so that we can get actual measurable results to see how the pantry is growing and if it is reaching the people most in need. Another great opportunity is to volunteer as a group. We have many groups that come in with school groups or teams or even corporate groups. It is really fun, and provides a great way to get to know your team while providing much needed hands for an important community need. There are so many ways that people can help. To get started, we have more details on volunteering here.

Q: What do you wish more people understood about food insecurity?

Christine: Often people mistakenly think food insecurity is just something that only affects people who are unemployed, or new to the country. There are so many people working incredibly hard or even multiple jobs who still can’t get enough food on the table for their family. Or maybe they had an emergency expense come up.

Being able to be agile and flexible with how we’re providing services is really important because nobody plans to have to use a food pantry. The key is bringing forth a spirit of caring and love in your actions. It’s not just a transaction––it’s about building relationships with people to see how we can work together to take steps toward improved well-being.

Q: Outside of work, how do you spend your time?

My husband and I are foster parents for age 0-3 kiddos (no placements at the moment). I make lots of successful-ish attempts at permaculture (gardening), and am learning more every year. We have a St. Bernard named Avalanche and 2 cats, Marmalade and Toast. I enjoy being on the water as a novice rower, kayaker, sailor and SCUBA dive. I enjoy trying and learning new things and love all of the amazing things Boston has to offer.

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