Joyner, Saxon exhibit hearts of service

Published 6:35 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2022

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April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, and the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore has two volunteers it made a point to highlight for their faithful, tireless service to the Western Tidewater community.

Those two volunteers are Alonzo Joyner and James Saxon, brothers who have volunteered with the Foodbank for seven years.

Both Southampton County residents, Saxon and Joyner offer their time and energy to help at the Foodbank’s monthly mobile pantry events held at the Franklin Armory and at the Courtland Farmers Market.

Suzette Thomas, with the Southampton County Department of Social Services, helps coordinate the Courtland event, and she spoke in glowing terms about what the two men bring to the effort.

“You’ve never seen two gentlemen who are more about the community,” she said. “They’re just dedicated. It’s not anything that we can ask them to do that they don’t happily do it.” 

She said that when asked to do something, they never have an attitude that says, “That’s not what I’m supposed to do. I don’t want to do it.”

Teri Zurfluh runs the Franklin Armory mobile pantry, and she described Saxon and Joyner as phenomenal. She highlighted how they bring complementary strengths to the work, with Joyner being the talker and Saxon being a quiet coach.

“Together, I call them my Swiss Army knife because the two of them together can do anything, anything I ask them to do,” she said.

The Foodbank’s mobile pantry at the Franklin Armory begins at 9:30 a.m. There is naturally set-up work that needs to be done in advance, but Joyner and Saxon do not simply arrive a bit early. They are there at least an hour before any other volunteers arrive.

“They’re out there at 7 o’clock, 7:15, getting the traffic lines in order,” Zurfluh said. “The truck usually gets there at 8 o’clock, and so I’m usually there a few minutes after, and they’re already helping the truck driver, getting organized.”

At the Courtland mobile pantry, Thomas said, “They are here before any of us.”

Zurfluh said Saxon picks the heaviest items to carry and the hardest station in the mobile pantry line every time. 

“It doesn’t matter if we’ve got a guy that’s half his age,” Zurfluh said. “James is going to pick the hardest, the heaviest, and he knows how to keep it moving.”

She said Saxon is constantly moving, demonstrating a tireless work ethic, and he does it all quietly.

“He’s a quiet coach,” she said. “I can put anybody with him. He’s got such a great personality that he can teach anybody to do the simple job of a food bank, but he does it in a way that makes people feel included.

“Alonzo usually helps with getting traffic in and out and keeping the flow of the traffic, and he knows everybody, so he’s like the best greeter on the planet,” Zurfluh continued.

She said Joyner keeps people smiling and laughing as they wait their turn, and he also is able to be firm when necessary, letting people know, for example, if they need to get off the phone or put their car in park.

“He knows how to modulate that customer service to what it needs (to be), because that’s very important to me and to Foodbank, that no matter what they’re doing with the Foodbank, customer service is No. 1,” Zurfluh said.

Thomas said Joyner and Saxon bring professionalism, friendliness, compassion and loyalty to the mobile pantry.

And both Thomas and Zurfluh noted that the men do not limit their help to the events themselves.

“When they leave, they take food out to other people in their community who can’t make it to the mobile pantry,” Zurfluh said. 

On Tuesday, April 26, Thomas said Saxon and Joyner had five extra loads of food they were going to personally deliver to folks who could not make it out to the event.

Joyner and Saxon know the mobile pantry work so well that Zurfluh has the highest confidence in their ability to step into any role, if needed.

“If I got hit by a truck tomorrow, they could run all the mobile pantries that I’d ever need them to run, without me,” she said. “If I get in a tangle and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, man, I need a couple more volunteers,’ it’s always those two guys that I think, ‘I should call Alonzo and James, they’ll help me.’ Because I know they’ll drop everything, and I know, for Alonzo, that’s a lot of things to drop, because he’s got a lot of things going on.”

She described Joyner as “Mr. Entrepreneur,” noting that he has multiple businesses.

Explaining what motivates him to volunteer for the Foodbank, Joyner said, “I’ve always been a person that liked to help people, and doing that, I think it just makes me happy to know that other people can get things that they really need.

“I don’t have a lot of money,” he added, “but I have a lot of time, so therefore that’s what I love to do.”

Saxon has a similar motivation.

“I’m that type of person that just loves to help people,” he said. “When I first went out there and saw what was going on, I just got excited. I’m running back and forth, back and forth. Whatever they need me to do, I just go ahead on and do it.”

Joyner said what he enjoys most about volunteering at the mobile pantry events is getting a chance to meet different people, finding out what their needs are and then being able to fulfill those needs.

“I make the people smile when they come through the line, make them feel comfortable because a lot of people don’t feel comfortable coming to food distributions,” he said.

Saxon indicated that he most enjoys seeing a smile on people’s faces when they come through the line.

“Knowing they’re happy, I’m happy,” he said. “I just love it.”