Food Shelf manager set to retire

By Emily Bialkowski
Caledonia Argus

After being in the business of helping people who are experiencing hard times for 12 years, Semcac Food Shelf Manager Iyla Mulvenna is calling it quits.

The 75-year-old is ready to take a step back and take a breath. “I’ve worked since I was 16, and I’ve worked forever and ever,” the spunky manager said.

Before accepting the two day a week position at the Food Shelf in 2000, Mulvenna worked for 18 years as a Wagonlit travel manager. She had a 16 year  stint as an office manager at Production Credit and time with both Houston County and the city of Caledonia before that.

Careful of the private nature of her work, Mulvenna said the biggest thing for her was learning not to judge people.

“Compassion is a lot of it, and it’s not always easy because you don’t know the situation for sure,” Mulvenna said, adding, “You need to welcome people into the food shelf. I’ve had people come in here crying and,  like we say, ‘That’s what we’re here for.’”

Keeping an uplifted disposition in light of the struggle such a manager sees is an essential part of the work at the Food Shelf; however, Mulvenna said it has become quite evident that things are getting worse, or at least more people are needing help.

“Last year we helped 300 families, but this year we’ve already helped 323 and we have time left,” she said.

Despite such eye-catching numbers Mulvenna said she has seen her share of good from the program, which helps get families in need food to sustain themselves and their families. She recalled a single woman who would come in for help and always said that someday she would give back when she could. Sure enough, when the tables turned and her situation improved, she started donating and sending checks.

Mulvenna is a familiar face around the county and her work with Semcac often requires her to give speeches to organizations looking to help, such as the Lions or Rotary.

During such presentations Mulvenna explains that there is no average day and that time flies when you take care of between 20 and 30 families each day.

Mulvenna also admits, “The business is getting more complicated, and I’m getting older. When you get to be 75 you start forgetting things, and you can’t remember names as well,” she said.

Perhaps name recall might be slipping for Mulvenna, but in her element she’s like a sparking wire, jumping to assist people at the weigh table and popping out from around her desk to answer questions. Her successor will have a few  important ideas to keep in mind.

“We’re not here to judge. Boy, whoever starts here has to know you cannot judge people at all,” she said, adding that clients don’t dance into the Food Shelf happy they need assistance.

Secondly, Mulvenna said the work can’t be done without the efforts of volunteers who, she said, she couldn’t have made it this long without. “I just want to thank the volunteers – I want to emphasize that.”

The change of face at the Food Shelf won’t mean Mulvenna will shrink back into a rocker-recliner, and she said she looks forward to continuing her work with Care and Share, election judging and the Festival of Trees. You might catch her with a  uniquely named, but harmless group called The Trash Group. It includes about a dozen of Mulvenna’s friends who get together each Monday for dinner.

In light of her successful tenure as Food Shelf manager, Mulvenna’s daughters are throwing a retirement party at Elsie’s Bar and Grill Nov. 24 from 1 to 3 p.m. Cake and beverages will be served along with  a few great stories.