When the Diaper Pantry was evolving from Maureen McNair’s idea to a room stacked with cartons of diapers at the South Bay campus, Mindy Hochgesang & her son Sebastian signed on as two of its first volunteers. Since then, Mindy and Sebastian have volunteered monthly at the pantry and Mindy has taken on leadership for the Pantry’s varied needs. She’s deployed a range of skills from the interpersonal to the statistical: recruiting and training volunteers, ordering diapers, wipes and other supplies—many large cartons— from the food bank each week, scheduling volunteers from Hillcrest and South Bay to work the Sunday distribution shifts as well as scheduling volunteers to receive deliveries of diapers and supplies mid-week, documenting and communicating diaper pantry policies and procedures, maintaining the statistics that the food banks, which supply the diapers, require, and the overall coordination and communication. Mindy has been a key person in organizing the teams and assuring that all this happens every week.
Woven through all she does is the empathic, mindful work of building a supportive environment for volunteers from both church campuses and the South Bay community, and a welcoming, respectful presence for the people who come each Sunday to pick up diapers and supplies.
Rhea Kuhlman remembers a Sunday at the pantry when she and Armin were winding down the morning’s distribution and Mindy arrived to do a training for five new South Bay volunteers. Mindy set up folding chairs in the back of the pantry’s narrow quarters, among the cartons of diapers, and Rhea overheard the session.
“Mindy’s first question was, ‘What makes you want to volunteer for the pantry?’ That question was wonderful. It helped those volunteers hear the concerns they had in common and get to know each other. Her understanding and respect that morning created community.”
Deirdre Lonergan, who heads the Food Pantry, was impressed by Mindy’ understanding of how organizations work, and the structures and policies they need to function well. “Mindy designed work flows and wrote a manual for the Diaper Pantry that enabled each Sunday’s team (each team does the distribution once a month) to follow the same procedures. Even though the pantry’s clients met a different team each Sunday, their experience would be the same and they could know what to expect. She’s always paying attention,” Deirdre said. “She keeps policy consistent across teams. That’s not showy, but it’s essential for ensuring that our clients to have a good experience.”
Mindy will be leaving some time this fall to return to the work that has engaged her all her adult life: public health and HIV in Africa. She’ll be working for the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, in Uganda. She’ll help lead CDC's work to implement efforts to strengthen sustainable health systems in Uganda, working closely with the Ugandan Ministry of Health and other local institutions, with funding from PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a US Government program started 20 years ago by President Bush and is the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in history. She doesn’t know quite when she’ll move to Uganda—that’s up to the CDC—but before she does, the Food Pantry’s leadership team would like to recognize her contributions to the Diaper Pantry.
When Mindy reflects on her commitment to social justice, she talks about her deep curiosity about people whose lives are different from hers, her empathy for them and her wish to work hand in hand with them to have a better life. Earlier in her life, after completing her master's in public health degree, she joined the Peace Corps and served in Morocco; these years continue to be some of the most influential in her personal and professional life. She came home from that tour with a deep commitment to addressing public health issues both locally and across the globe. From 2004-2015, she lived and worked in Malawi and then Mozambique, working with the CDC to implement PEPFAR programming, focusing on ensuring quality data to support the HIV response in both countries.
A desire to live closer to her family brought her to San Diego in 2015, and having been a member of the Santa Monica UU community earlier in her life, she quickly found a home at First UU. But now she’s ready to go back to the work and the place that has called her heart for so much of her life. Although she’s leaving First Church for now, she hopes to maintain a connection. Her work in Uganda will engage the same empathy and curiosity and caring for the people she works with that have marked her involvement here.
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