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WorkHappy Spotlight

WorkHappy Spotlight: Murphysboro Food Pantry Director Megan Austin

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As Director of the Murphysboro Food Pantry, Megan Austin works alongside numerous community partners who are focused on one primary goal: Feeding the hungry. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she has seen the true heart of Southern Illinoisans shine brightly through a turbulent time that has left many local organizations planning for the future.

“The community has really stepped up a lot with acts of support,” she said. “One Hot Cookie has supplied our staff and volunteers with cookies and coffee as a thank you and a way to let us know we’re in this together. We’ve had a couple of individuals who have bought boxed lunches from Subway to supply our children in the community who when they were first out of school.

“Individuals have really been supportive in sharing food goods and monetary donations,” she said. “We are blessed to be in a very giving community. The generosity of our local people always amazes me.”

The pantry is still open from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday for drive-through pickup. Southern Illinoisans can donate by sending monetary donations directly to PO Box 671, Murphysboro, 62966 or food drop-offs can be arranged by calling 618-684-8258.

Austin has followed an interesting — and not always linear path — to reach this point in her career. After a season of personal heartbreak and challenges, Megan persevered to find her new calling. Read on to learn more about her story and how she works every day to better the lives of those in need.

With the food pantry, you’re working with a lot of dedicated volunteers and community partners to make a big difference for a lot of people … Why do you love your current work situation?

I love this job for so many reasons. On one hand we make a direct impact here at the food pantry by providing nutritious foods to those families who are going through hard times, and we are glad that we can sort of act as a safety net for their basic life needs.

On the other hand, it is incredible to go into work with a crew of volunteers. Our volunteers are one of a kind, and every single one of them provides a quality that the pantry needs to be the success that it is. I believe our clients like coming in and being greeted by our volunteers.

We absolutely love seeing the community help others within the community here in Jackson County — organizations like churches and businesses and individuals, as well. This is what we depend on to keep us afloat.

Can you share a specific story about something that has happened during your work with the pantry that has made you appreciate the importance of your role?

When I hear our clients tell our volunteers how much they appreciate the pantry and their work it makes us feel really good. The days I get to talk one-on-one with our clients are the days that I feel like our work is impacting a great amount of people.

Because of this, I’m not doing a lot of desk work. I get to help with the drive-through, which lets me see and interact with people one-on-one. We really enjoy connecting with people, and we hope that they can not only rely on us for food when they need it, but they can also rely on us for friendly service, fair treatment and a warm smile.

Especially right now, people are so appreciative of what we’re doing and how much food we’re able to get out.

What has the road to career happiness been like for you? What have been some of your primary challenges?

Though there have been a lot of challenges, I have always tried hardest to cling to my faith. Of course, some days are more challenging than others when thousands of individuals rely on you and donations from the community. I think a notable challenge was when I first started at the pantry in September 2017.

I had just gone through a couple of heartbreaking losses in my personal life and I can only guess depression and grief were settling in because I didn’t want to do much of anything.

Additionally, I started my last semester and my internship (here at the pantry) for the graduate program I was enrolled in. I was juggling a ton of emotions along with a lot of change with a new job, an internship and night classes. I had several weak moments, but really I found that I had a new sense of purpose. The idea of people relying on our organization for nourishment keeps me more than motivated.

Who really stepped up to help you get through those challenging moments?

I am grateful to have a safety net and support of family and friends that help me through my tough times. When many people like our clients don’t have that option, I am happy we can step in. I know that we are serving that elderly gentleman who is making too little on SSI to keep his fridge stocked. We are serving that single mother with two kids on one income. We are serving that veteran in need of food supplies.

There are many different individual situations that can render ones’ need for the pantry and I like to think what the pantry and our community donors provide makes life feel like less of a struggle. I feel that is what our society should be doing for one another as much as possible.

Can you tell me about your educational background and how it has played a role in shaping your career?

When I graduated from Southern Illinois University with my bachelor’s in nutrition, I was one of the few who didn’t have a job in line. About two weeks after I graduated, I ended up with a job teaching nutrition education to people of all ages in Jackson County. One of the places that I spent my time teaching was the Murphysboro Food Pantry. I grew to love the pantry and its mission.

What’s your advice to people who may feel like they are “stuck” in unhappy work situations?

Personally, I have always felt that if I kept plugging along and praying, I will eventually see something positive unfold. You just have to know what’s right for you and have the confidence to go for it and work hard for it.

Joe Szynkowski is a Sr. Director for NuVinAir Global, a Dallas-based company disrupting the automotive industry. Thanks to technology, he does so happily from his home east of Marion. Email Joe@TheUpWriteGroup.com for more guidance on work happiness.

Joe Szynkowski is a Sr. Director for NuVinAir Global, a Dallas-based company disrupting the automotive industry. Thanks to technology, he does so happily from his home east of Marion. Email Joe@TheUpWriteGroup.com for more guidance on work happiness.

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