Volunteers of the Month: Manya Krishnaswamy, Richard Andrew, and Lisa Charlebois

April 24, 2020

CUESA’s Volunteer of the Month program recognizes the dedication and work of some of our most active volunteers. CUESA relies on volunteers to help with education programs, special events, public outreach, and other activities that help fulfill our mission to cultivate a sustainable food system. Most of our regular volunteer opportunities are currently on hold with the exception of farmers market roles. Learn more about volunteering here.

Veteran and new volunteers have stepped up to assist CUESA with new activities in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Recent San Francisco newcomer and tech professional Manya Krishnaswamy found as a CUESA volunteer the perfect opportunity to meet people, feel connected to the city, and learn more about local food. She first volunteered at CUESA’s 2019 Summer Bash then at other events, like produce tastings and a zero-waste cocktail workshop. She has recently helped pack CUESA’s new produce boxes for curbside pickup. She is joined by husband-and-wife team Richard Andrew and Lisa Charlebois. Richard has volunteered at the Mission Community Market info booth for about a year, and Lisa started with us packing boxes a few weeks ago.

“Manya, Richard, and Lisa have been with us since we started the box program. They’re focused and positive and troubleshoot any issues to get our boxes ready for shoppers by 9:30 am,” says Volunteer Coordinator Cindy Mendoza. “Our produce box packing team has been hardworking and a lot of fun. We very much appreciate their regular support so we can offer this additional service to our sellers and shoppers.” Meet Manya, Richard, and Lisa.

CUESA: Where does your interest in food come from?

Manya: I was diagnosed with an auto-immune condition about 7 years ago. While it was one of the most challenging times in my life, it was also an opportunity for me to take a closer look at the impact of the food on my body. What gave me energy? What made me feel lethargic? What made me feel strong? It kick-started a process of looking beyond taste to understand the power of the things we eat.

Richard: I’ve always been interested in food. As a kid I would read the cereal nutrition facts panel and dream of where this magical factory must be.

Lisa: My aunt ran a restaurant in Canada (where I grew up), and I was always fascinated with what she would create. I’ve always been curious about cooking, and now living in California, it’s such a gift to be so close to the farms that cultivate all this yummy produce.

CUESA: What do you do when you aren’t volunteering for CUESA? And how is the current crisis impacting you?

Manya: I spend time in the kitchen trying out new recipes, exploring San Francisco (there’s still so much I haven’t seen), or hanging out with friends. I’ve been incredibly fortunate at this time for so many different reasons. Everything that is going on right now has definitely made me reflect a lot more on all the things I have to be grateful for. I do miss the social contact though.

Richard: I’m a Food Chemist (guess the cereal box dream paid off). And this current crisis is definitely helping me realign to what is important.

Lisa: I’m a Creative Director, most recently laid off due to Coronavirus. So yes, this crisis is definitely hitting very close to home.

CUESA: What motivates you to volunteer with us at this time?

Manya: This is trying time for the whole world. When we emerge on the other side of COVID-19, I want to know that I have been helpful in some way. The Farmers Market boxes that CUESA is putting together is such an incredible way to support both farmers, who are having to deal with fewer patrons (especially restaurants), as well as the San Francisco community, who may not be able to or comfortable with frequenting the farmers market at this time.

Richard: I realized service to others is more valuable than anything. I feel fortunate about where I am, so I want to help wherever I can and give back.

Lisa: Same as Richard. We have a roof over our head and food in our cupboards, so the least we can do is help connect the Farmers to those that can’t go out. I think of my parents in Canada and since I can’t be there to help them…at the very least I can be here and hopefully help someone else’s loved ones.

CUESA: What does the farmers market community mean to you?

Manya: The farmers market community is a step towards creating a world that is fair and one that values both people and the earth.

Richard: I work in the food industry so I’m already quite passionate about delivering healthy options to people. For me, farmers connect their seasonal ecosystem to the community, leaving a direct impact.

Lisa: It’s such a vibrant and diverse ecosystem. Bringing fresh, healthy options to folks in urban environments is critical.

CUESA: Any favorite farmers market foods or home meal prep tips you want to share?

Manya: The Pasta Shop is one of my all-time favorite vendors. They have some of the best ravioli I’ve ever had. It’s best eaten fresh, but it’s also great to buy and freeze for later. I’ve also been doing a lot of batch roasting of vegetables. It’s amazing how simply drizzling some olive oil, salt and pepper and letting the oven do its thing can result in delicious outcomes.

Richard: With fresh spring vegetables a light touch is all that’s required, think about a quick sauté and a subtle broth to accent the natural flavor profile.

Lisa: Full disclosure, Richard was a chef in a past life so honestly, I am more of an enthusiastic eater than anything. But my favorite part of the market is seeing the same vendors and exchanging some small talk. A fun Saturday, even in a pandemic.