A charming little girl giggle belies the fiery force of a determined woman who inspires others to share her enthusiasm to get things done. Sahuarita Food Bank and Community Resource Center (SFB-CRC) Board President Penny Pestle spearheaded a massive effort to build a brand new 14,300 square-foot facility for the nonprofit that has grown exponentially under her leadership. It’s expected to be completed by 2022.
“If you dream big, it can come true,” she said, but like most successful leaders, she will tell you it’s all about the team. “You have to value your people and recognize them.”
Born in Turkey to Foreign Service parents who exposed her to a variety of experiences, including growing up in Vietnam in the early '60s, she developed sensitivity for the struggles of all people. “I believe diversity enriches your life,” she stated.
Pestle sold cars, then designed furniture, ultimately becoming a senior manager with Herman Miller’s famed furniture company in Zeeland, Michigan. She still managed to raise two kids, serve on charity boards, and tutor disadvantaged children.
She and husband John, a retired attorney, volunteered with helping prisoners return to society when they moved here 15 years ago, but her volunteering passion and talent eventually turned in the direction of the burgeoning food bank at The Good Shepherd Church of Christ in Sahuarita. It was founded by fellow parishioner and board member Jackie Smith as a tiny pantry in a closet, and Pestle agreed to pitch in to help it grow.
“I was going to volunteer for 90 days, or so I thought. It grabbed me,” ” she recalled.
They formed a board, elected her president, and she researched and listened and worked distribution days to learn it from the ground up. Pestle praises her colleagues, volunteers, staff, and all the donors who helped her see this vision become a reality. “I get fed by the energy from other people,” she pointed out.
Crediting Smith with the concept of combining community resources with food distribution, the new space will allow SFB-CRC to provide parenting classes, health/nutrition, tax help, early literacy, and support for entering the workforce.
“Feeding people is essential,” Pestle explained, “but if we continue to feed people and not help them explore their potential and opportunities, then the same cycle will repeat.”
Sahuarita Mayor Tom Murphy noted at the groundbreaking ceremony in February that the town has no social services programs, so it makes this new resource critically important.
“It will be a hub of community service,” Pestle said.
The new building will also mean that older volunteers and clients will no longer have to work or wait in cold winter and hot summer temperatures. With plenty of room for storage and movement of food products, it will be a much more efficient operation to provide for hungry families.
Pestle has served as board president for five years now, and this has been an eight-year dream in the making. She has brought together factions from all over the community to help it come true. “I don’t believe in being a leader who has to have everything her way. I believe in consensus building. It’s very important to have reciprocal relationships,” she explained.
Penelope means “weaver” in Greek, and Penelope (Penny) Pestle regularly puts in a 30- to 40-hour week weaving ideas and people together into a phenomenal fabric of influence for positive change in the community.
Together we can accomplish great things, she always says, and she certainly has proven that.
Contact the Green Valley-Sahuarita Volunteer Clearinghouse at its website: gvsvolunteering.org