Walt Basinger of Santa Rosa’s Redwood Empire Food Bank wins a North Bay Business Journal Nonprofit Leadership Award

Walt Basinger

Volunteer Lead

Redwood Empire Food Bank

3990 Brickway, Santa Rosa 95403



Professional background: Electronics 30+ years

Education: St. Gabriel’s School, San Francisco; St. Ignatius High School, San Francisco , City College of San Francisco, Santa Rosa Junior College. Associates Degrees

Number of staff: Typically I work with two REFB employees helping guide volunteers through the task of sorting produce or packing boxes of food. I do supervise during the shift and help people be efficient and productive and safe. A typical shift could have as many as 40 volunteers. On a typical day I might work with almost a 100 volunteers and many REFB staff in the warehouse.

Describe your organization: Providing food to those in need in our region. The food is sorted/gleaned by volunteers at the REFB warehouse then shipped to various distribution sites in the region. The site is staffed by about 60 employees and hundreds of volunteers. The process of distributing the food is sometimes 6 days a week and the volunteer involvement can also be 6 days a week.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: My most interesting job in high school and college was as a deck hand on freighters, as a member of the Merchant Marines SS Japan Bear, SS China Bear and the SS Sioux Fall Victory. Lots of places in the southeast Asia during the summers of 1967, 68 and 69.

I was always interested in electronics starting in grade school. I spent over 30 years working at Hewlett Packard and its spin offs.

After electronics I went to SRJC and studied land surveying where I worked for about five years. I have been a resident of Rincon Valley almost 40 years, married, two adult children, grandchildren.

Served in California Army National Guard 20+ years, in several different units and earned a retirement. One of my interesting experiences in the National Guard was for several years I was a member of the California Army National Guard Marathon Team. We traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska and participated in the National Guard Bureau Marathon Trails.

What is your role in the organization?

‘Volunteer Leader’ works with volunteers and staff making sure food is produced safely, efficiently, and making sure volunteers enjoy their experience and it does not seem too much like ‘work’ and hopefully they will volunteer in the future.

How has your organization been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes demand is up to about 250% of pre COVID-19 levels ( as per REFB staff data ).

The food production in the REFB warehouse was too small to meet the increased number of volunteers so a large tent was placed in the parking lot of a nearby school of accommodate the increased number of volunteers and keep a safe social distance while having as many of 40 volunteers and several staff, forklift and such working to get the food moving to its destination.

What are the ways your organization responded to increased demands for services, and fiscally, in what has your organization been forced to adjust?

In my area of food production, additional shifts have been added during the summer. Volunteers could choose from four different shifts starting at 6 a.m. and ending at 7 p.m. During the current COVID19-altered school week there are many student who can volunteer typically on Wednesday. Part of my responsibility is issue ‘school certificates’ that credit student with two or three hours of public service time that they volunteer.

Currently we are back to three shifts ranging from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. in September.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Since April 1st, the start of the REFB offsite COVID-19 campaign, I have volunteered 1,000 hours as of early October ( 6 months ). I was honored by volunteers and staff for my commitment on a Friday morning. I never intended to go for any recognition, but then I thought it would be nice to show others that it is easy to be a consistent volunteer at REFB

What is your biggest challenge today?

Making sure volunteers enjoy their shift, that they consider returning, and quality food gets packaged. For many of the high school students the incentive is earning a few hours of credit that some school require during the school year.

Sometimes I try to explain that even though as task is very simple, (like breaking down cardboard boxes), it is an essential part of helping to get the food process going.

What product or service would/or is helping you do your job more effectively?

Newspaper and media asking people to consider volunteering at REFB . Some days our volunteer turnout is high, other days a bit low.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

Volunteering is always a good way of helping others. Maybe someone cannot make a monetary donation to a charity, but can donate time. REFB is a very flexible easy place to donate time. We all have some spare time we could use wisely for the benefit of others.

If you donate money to some charity, you might wonder exactly where you donation went. Here at REFB, a person can participate and make their donated time have a positive effect.

Describe a fond memory you have about working with a staff member or client of your organization?

One day, about 10 years ago I wore my REFB polo shirt to Helwett Packard on a day I was going to REFB to work the 5 to 7 p.m. shift. One of the HP managers asked what the shirt was about. I explained that I was involved at REFB. About a month later that manager had recruited a team of volunteers to pack boxes one night a month.

What other community involvement would you like people to know about?

REFB is my only physical involvement


Current reading: Julie Hyzy “Affairs of Steak”

Most want to meet: Frank Shorter, last American to win Olympic gold in the marathon event

Stress relievers: Running, amateur radio

Favorite hobbies: Amateur radio, licensed 48 years, my call sign is WA6RWI, and running . 48,000+ miles logged since January 1976.

I have run the Bay to Breakers 47 times, also 35 marathons ( but not longer doing the long distances ).

I continue to run, but not as fast nor as far. I do ski a little bit during the winter. I also have a road bike which I sometimes ride.

Social media you most use: I do not do much social media, just normal email

Buzz word from your industry you dislike the most: Anything that cast a negative shadow on the people who are getting food. I like to hear them referred to as ‘clients’.

Typical day at the office: Usually volunteer M-F 7 a.m. to about 430 p.m. under the current COVID-19 schedule. I help start the volunteers going on their project, especially if they are first time volunteers.

At the end of the shift we tally up some numbers and let the volunteers know how many meals they have produced a show a list of the site receiving the food then next day. This showing the site locations and showing the numbers to the volunteers helps bring home the message that they are helping people right in their own neighborhood. I do this process for three shifts a day.

Words that best describe you: Dedicated, creative, try to listen, help, correct problems, not be superior to anyone, nor inferior to anyone,

Anything you want to add?

If I did not like being at REFB, working with the REFB staff and volunteers, I would not be answering these questions.

Walt Basinger

Volunteer Lead

Redwood Empire Food Bank

3990 Brickway, Santa Rosa 95403



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