Believing in the mission: DeSantis’ Distinguished Service award

July 2021 Posted in Uncategorized

By Melissa Wagoner

Sarah DeSantis

It’s not every day that the employees of an organization recognize their boss for her distinguished service. But as the Silverton Chamber of Commerce began accepting nominations for the Community Awards for 2020, the staff at Silverton Area Community Aid (SACA) did precisely that, nominating their director, Sarah DeSantis, for the Distinguished Service Award.

“We know when COVID-19 hit many people in this town stepped up to keep things moving, we believe Sarah was one of these people,” SACA’s four-person administrative team wrote in their collective nomination letter. 

“It was a crazy year,” Patti Waters, SACA’s Program Director, said of the 12 months that started out with a pandemic and ended with wildfires and an ice storm, “two of us were working from home (for six months) so she had to do our jobs, most or our volunteers at the time were older adults and had to stop coming to help out, so Sarah had to recruit and train new people. She was very flexible about getting food out to the public. We went from once-a-month shopping to once a week to now any time a person needs food they can come. She is empathetic, caring, and considerate of her neighbors.  We assist people with rent, utilities, gas, propane, and prescription vouchers.  SACA, under the direction of Sarah, helped with families involved in the fires, and then with the ice storm all with the same grace, respect, and consideration she shows everyone.”

Joining SACA for the first time as a volunteer in 2015, when she was pregnant with her first child, newly unemployed and looking for work, DeSantis was instantly smitten with the organization’s goals.

“I believe in the mission that no one should be hungry and that everyone should have good quality food,” DeSantis said. The more she learned about the inner workings of the organization, the more she found to like. 

“On top of that… staff and volunteers connect with community members in a really profound way through case management and working closely with clients that have other needs than just food, providing assistance for utilities and gas vouchers for them to get to appointments, helping with basic needs and being a source of support.”

After her tenure as a volunteer, DeSantis joined the board and then, after one year more, decided to make SACA her career.

“I thought this would be a great opportunity to work for an organization that I care about,” DeSantis recalled. 

“I hadn’t had a job in the community since high school and it seemed like a good fit.”

Raised in Silverton, DeSantis developed her love of community service by watching her mom, Sherry Hoefel, volunteer, first as a member of the Silver Fox Foundation and later as a board member of SACA as well. 

“[She] has stepped up in a variety of ways,” DeSantis said. “Really she should be getting this award instead of me.”

That humble sentiment would probably surprise few who know DeSantis well, least of all her staff. 

“If asked, Sarah would probably say that the reason SACA keeps running is because of the wonderful donors who believe in the mission of SACA,” they wrote.

Which was indeed a portion of the answer she gave when asked how it feels to receive the recognition. 

“I am grateful,” she began. “But I’m almost embarrassed by it because I feel I’m just doing my job. And while I love it, there’s a whole crew at SACA that deserve to be recognized this way. And our board is wonderful… And of course the donors who have supported us in so many ways… I just feel like it needs to be shared.”

And while it is true that SACA is decidedly a community-based organization – and has been for over 50 years – the staff maintain that it is DeSantis’ guidance that truly makes the organization what it is.

“Under Sarah’s leadership, I’ve seen the ability to allow families in the community to receive more healthy food, larger quantities, and… more visits…[providing] those who need a helping hand the resources they need on levels and timelines they need it,” inventory manager Russ Gould described. “She also has made SACA a very positive work environment where, as an employee, I enjoy coming to work, and feel valued.”

That sentiment goes both ways. 

“It meant a lot to me that my team had nominated me – that the folks who work so hard alongside me everyday trust me and believe in me (and don’t think my ideas are too crazy),” DeSantis said. “The last year and a half has been really hard and, sometimes, really lonely. So, to have this kind of validation from my team was really special.”

Silverton Area Community Aid

421 S. Water St., Silverton

Pantry hours: Monday and Thursday 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.; Tuesday 4 p.m.
to 7 p.m.


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