Wade Michaels is a reprieve from the bad stuff: a glimpse of hope in a sea of negativity.
I stumbled upon Wade while researching a project about food waste. It’s funny how one story leads to the next. Someone at the Connecticut Food Bank told me about Wade. So on a sunny May day, we met outside the Guilford, CT., Big Y.
Wade, produce/floral manager, battled anxiety and depression after his father suddenly died of a heart attack 10 years ago. (This is not the uplifting part.) He tried antidepressants and therapy, but didn’t feel better until he began helping others.
“I was the saddest guy in the room,” Wade, 40, recalls. “I was so wrapped up in my own stuff. Then one day I realized I had to change. I started reading Tony Robbins, who says the way to end suffering is helping people. We’re not here to take, we’re here to give.”
Wade began volunteering at the Madison Community Service Food Pantry, and his spirits began to lift. When the Connecticut Food Bank asked him if Big Y would donate surplus produce last year, Wade jumped.
Today, he rescues fresh produce from Big Ys in Guilford, Old Saybrook and Lyme, and delivers them to Shoreline food banks. Every Wednesday, he spends his lunch hour at the Madison pantry stocking shelves and handing out produce.
“It’s one of the best things I do all week,” Wade says. “I’m just getting started. Once you start helping people, you look for ways to do more.”
Though smaller than many Big Ys in the state, the Guilford store donates the most produce to the Connecticut Food Bank. Wade says he’s supported by his Springfield, MA.,-based company, which gives him a two-hour lunch break Wednesdays. But he rescues most food in his spare time.
In the past year, he’s diverted 25,000 pounds of surplus produce to food pantries. Before the rescue program began, local food banks bought fresh produce for their shelves.
“He’s awesome,” said one Connecticut Food Bank executive. “The average age of our volunteers is 70 and no one was available to rescue food from the Old Saybrook and Lyme stores. Wade took it upon himself to get produce from those stores. When presented with a problem, Wade finds ways to fix it.”
When the Lyme Food Pantry needed shopping carts, Wade got them donated. He believes nothing’s impossible if you’re willing to tackle a problem.
Madison Community Services Food Pantry leaders are overwhelmed by Wade’s volunteerism, saying they’ve never met anyone like him.
“He’s always looking out for other people,” says Vincent Diglio, who directs the pantry with his wife Margaret and Mary Hake. “Anything he can do for other people in need, he does. It’s really quite extraordinary.”
The other day, a customer asked for fresh fruit. Wade apologized that he was nearly out. He offered apples, but the man shook his head. “I was hoping for some strawberries, maybe a melon,” he said. Wade assured him he’d put some aside for him next week.
Wade, who is married and lives in Old Saybrook, CT., is happy, and grateful that his dark days are behind him.
“My father had to pass away and I had to go through that period to change,” Wade says.
The Connecticut Food Bank always needs volunteers. To learn more, visit http://www.ctfoodbank.org.