Volunteer Name: Latha Iyer
FFEN Volunteer Role: Data Analyst (Focus on Database Management)
How did you get involved with FFEN?
It all started in 2020 at the peak of the pandemic. I had retired in 2018 to help babysit my grandchildren. However, I kept feeling that I needed to do something more to give back to society at large and in late 2019 and I started looking for remote opportunities through AARP. In July 2020 I came across FFEN’s request for a data analysis volunteer and although I had very little exposure to hunger management, I knew I could use my 37 years in IT to help the organization in analyzing data. And my involvement with FFEN started.
How long have you been volunteering with FFEN?
I have been volunteering with FFEN since July 2020 – about two and a half years.
Why do you share your time and talents with FFEN?
FFEN’s vision is to help food shelves provide hunger relief with a dignified experience. FFEN analyzes data from food shelves and provides recommendations with respect to offering healthy food choices to their clients, while keeping tabs on cost. Therefore, analysis of data from food shelves is a key area of work for the FFEN organization. With my experience in the IT field and having supported databases and data analysis for over three decades, this is an area in which I can contribute and help make a difference. The flexibility that I have in supporting the work, the ability to work remote, the dedicated fellow volunteers and the fact that I can contribute to FFEN’s vision with my skills and experience makes it worthwhile to share my time and talents with FFEN.
What is your professional experience (and background) and how does it relate to your volunteer role?
With 37 years of IT experience with major companies like AT&T and IBM, I have supported many different areas in the IT field. The last 15 years of my career were as a manager supporting teams that supported databases. After retirement I wanted to use my skills and experience for greater good and FFEN’s data analyst opportunity presented itself at the right time. In this role, not only am I able to support FFEN’s vision through supporting the database that houses food shelf data but also help myself be engaged in work that keeps my brain working.
What have your volunteer projects looked like with FFEN?
I have had the opportunity to do multiple projects with FFEN. I started off as a data analyst, primarily analyzing food sourcing data from food shelves. I noticed that data was being stored in Excel spreadsheets and suggested setting up a database for the data. This provided me with the privilege of leading a group of great volunteers to set up an AWS (Amazon Web Services) database for FFEN. This has enabled FFEN to store and analyze data for multiple years. Aside from data analysis and database management, I was also able to help a small food shelf write a grant proposal and receive the grant, which was very exciting for me.
What impact have you seen from your volunteer projects with FFEN, either within the organization or for a local food shelf?
When I joined FFEN in 2020, we were analyzing data for a handful of food shelves. Since the number of food shelves requesting food sourcing analysis was on the rise, management of data in Excel spreadsheets was getting difficult. Implementation of the AWS database has opened the possibility of handling data for multiple food shelves across multiple years and we have been able to handle data for about 250 food shelves in Minnesota with ease.
The exceptional dedication and efforts of FFEN’s staff and volunteers to support FFEN’s vision, has made it possible for FFEN to help food shelves support their clients better.