I am RIFA – Denice Walton
Meet Denice Walton, RIFA’s Donor and Community Relations Manager. Instead of our typical interview style, Denice took the time to write her own story. We hope you enjoy learning more about how Denice came to RIFA, her role of sharing RIFA with the community, and, most importantly, how passionate she is about our donors and patrons alike.
When people ask me how I came to be at RIFA, I feel compelled to give a bit of background information. For almost 8 years, I worked at LIFELINE Blood Services in recruitment. That means I shared with people about the need for blood, and then asked people to roll up their sleeves and donate blood. Then, I transitioned into education and I became a teacher for the next 12 years. I spent my days sharing information with high schoolers. Both were wonderful careers full of meaningful work. I joined the RIFA family in May of 2022. The biggest portion of my job at RIFA is sharing the message of RIFA (which is kind of similar to teaching) and asking people to join me in the work of RIFA (which is similar to recruitment). I feel like both of my prior positions have led me to RIFA as Donor and Community Relations Manager. While lots of people know about parts of RIFA, we want everyone to know about all of RIFA. Our mission is to reach out with the love of Christ to help people in need by providing physical and spiritual nourishment, and that takes each of our ministries. I LOVE to share about RIFA. In fact, if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll come to RIFA and let me give you a tour. This is your personal invitation. Seriously, give me a call!
One aspect of my job is getting to know RIFA’s supporters. We have so many amazing donors: those who make monetary donations, those who share their time as volunteers, and those who make in-kind donations. We are so thankful! We simply could not do the work we do without our partners. United Way of West Tennessee reports that 48% of all households in Jackson live in poverty or earn just above the federal poverty level but not enough to make ends meet. Food insecurity is real and RIFA is the answer for so many of our friends and neighbors. In 2023, RIFA distributed over 610,000 meals. This would not be possible without those who come alongside us. If you’re looking for opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus, join us. I promise you’ll be blessed. Again, give me a call and let me share more about RIFA.
I work with incredibly talented people. Kristen, our rockstar marketing coordinator, is in charge of RIFA’s social media and graphic design. Erin, is our brand-new events coordinator/grant writer and we’re super excited to have her on board. Together, we make a great team. Our department of three has been in existence for just the past couple of years. As the need around us has grown, RIFA has grown. We’re honored to continue the great work that began when RIFA was created in 1976.
I love so many things about being inside the office: visiting the Soup Kitchen because it reminds me of the importance of our work, stopping by the warehouse to visit with our amazing volunteers, shopping in our awesome thrift store–seriously, I love all of it. Our Monday morning staff meetings and daily prayer time are so special. These meetings are the one time each week when we all gather to discuss what’s happening at work, but it’s also a time when we share our prayer requests and devotion. I don’t want to ever take that for granted. Additionally, we stop and have prayer time each day at 1:30. We meet in different locations each day of the week; one day we’ll meet in the administrative office, one day we’ll meet in the warehouse, etc. Everyone is invited–our staff, our volunteers, our patrons–anyone who’s around is welcome to pray with us. It’s a time of sweet fellowship and a great time to acknowledge that we’re totally dependent on God for His blessing and favor. I’m grateful to be in a place with such freedom.
Another portion of my job is one that some people just really don’t like to talk about–fundraising. Not many people really want to talk about asking for money, but, you know what? We can’t do the work we do without it. We absolutely need food donations, and we absolutely need in-kind donations. However, we also need to keep those refrigerators and freezers operating, and we need to be able to keep the lights on. So, we do, in fact, have to ask for monetary donations. When I see our patrons and I hear their stories, it reminds me of how important it is for us to be here, and that’s why we ask. It just astounds me each day how many people are hungry right here where we live, work, and worship. It’s easy to think that because we’re in a relatively small city, or because we’re in the South, that we don’t really have a food insecurity problem. Not everyone realizes that RIFA provides almost 1400 bags of food for elementary students in Jackson schools every single week. These are children who, otherwise, might not have enough food for the weekend. It’s RIFA’s most expensive ministry, but it’s one that is near and dear to my heart. It hurts my mama heart (and my former teacher heart) to think about kids going hungry. Not everyone realizes that we deliver monthly boxes of food (and fresh produce) to senior adults. I’m thankful for all of our ministries. I am so so grateful that RIFA is able to stand in the gap for those who are most vulnerable.
One of the fundraisers with which most people are familiar is Canstruction. Every September for the past 18 years RIFA has hosted Canstruction–an event where teams come together to build structures out of full cans of food (which is then donated to RIFA at the end of the event). These structures are massive and contain hundreds (or thousands) of cans, bags of rice, etc. and they are amazing. When you’re watching the teams at work, it’s hard to even imagine that it’s really going to work and that the structure will stay intact. It is mind-boggling! Through sponsorships and table sales, this is RIFA’s largest fundraiser. It’s such a wonderful night of fun, food, and fellowship. For the past couple of years, we’ve had a comedy act, and it’s so heartwarming to be in a room full of people laughing. Another favorite fundraiser is the LOLO Christmas show. Oh my goodness! That same heartwarming feeling is in the room when everyone’s all singing along to the Christmas carols. That’s such a crazy-busy time of the year, but for just a few hours during the LOLO weekend, we all just stop and enjoy the music and the fellowship. It’s truly special. LOLO has a heart for the Snack Backpack program and we’re humbled and honored that she’s chosen to host this event each year specifically for that ministry. She is a jewel.
I want to share one other thing that has just been a huge blessing in my life: I graduated from Leadership Jackson in December. I have to say LJ is one of the top 5 favorite things I’ve done in my adult life. For 16 weeks, our class gathered each Wednesday to hear incredible speakers share about varying aspects of leadership. We all learned so much about our city, our local nonprofits, our government, education, and healthcare–I can’t even begin to mention everything. Honestly, I wish more people could go through the program. It’s outstanding! The Greater Jackson Chamber is stellar and we are richly blessed to have their staff representing Jackson, Tennessee. Meeting the people in my class (which consists of people from all aspects of industry, business, and community) and gaining a deeper understanding of our city through LJ will forever be one of my greatest blessings. I’ve made so many new friends–and at 55 years old, you just don’t get that kind of opportunity every day. I learned so much and, thankfully, I had the chance to share about RIFA with a lot of new people, too.
One of the best parts of my job outside the office is sharing about RIFA and connecting with people. I LOVE meeting people, (and I love talking) so if I have the opportunity to attend a social gathering or club meeting, I’m going to do my best to be there, so I can talk about RIFA. We have important work to do: ensuring that everyone has access to food. Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:40, “And the king will say to them in reply, and, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” I’m on a mission to enlist others to join me. It’s our calling. It’s His plan. I’m humbled and honored every single day to be part of the work He has called us to do.
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