Michael Bennett is up before four o’clock every morning—but doesn’t use an alarm. “My body’s just trained to do what it has to do,” he says. With good reason: The North Carolina native, who was raised by his beloved grandparents, served our country in the Army during Vietnam, then worked in New York and D.C. for the U.S. Postal Service for 34 years.
Just as he approached retirement, a dear aunt in Philly fell very ill—and Bennett relocated from his Maryland home to help care for her. “I was brought up that way. Having been raised by my grandparents, I’ve always loved helping seniors,” he explains.
Once settled in the Nicetown neighborhood in North Philly, it wasn’t long before Bennett got involved with Upper Room Missionary Baptist Church and, through the congregation’s pastor, Carlton L. Aiken, began volunteering with Philabundance, the Delaware Valley’s largest hunger-relief agency, which serves more than 90,000 people each week.
Now, as he’s done for nearly seven years, Bennett arrives at the church by 4:30 am, five days a week, and starts making the rounds: driving the Philabundance truck to four supermarkets to pick up donated items for redistribution, then bringing them back to the church where they’re prepared by other volunteers; then he heads back out again, making another round of four or five pickups, in preparation for the next day. For his devotion, Philabundance named Bennett one of their first-ever Hunger Heroes at an awards ceremony in September.
“He’s just the most dependable, most consistent and go-the-extra-mile person that we could all think of,” says Steve Montgomery, who oversees sustainability initiatives at Philabundance, like the Grocers Against Hunger program for which Bennett volunteers. “He’s humble and apt to play down what he does, but Mike’s efforts really save his clients money that they can put towards other things they need.”
“I don’t have much, but what I have, I’ll share,” Bennett says.
To call Bennett modest is an understatement. “All my life, that’s just who I am,” he says, shrugging off praise. “I’ve been humbled to do things that help people.” When he’s not driving the truck, Bennett finds time to visit seniors on the receiving end of the goods, whose circumstances, he says, can be dire. “With the economy the way it is, and many elders caring for their grandchildren, many seniors pay their bills and then are left with so little, that I’ve heard of people eating dog food,” he laments. No one should have to be stripped of their food and their dignity, and visiting with the seniors puts a smile on their faces—and his. Bennett goes so far as to encourage people who can’t get out for food to call him—he’ll make a box and deliver it himself.
“I don’t have much, but what I have, I’ll share. I get up in the morning, I might have an ache and pain, but I feel good because I know God is giving me the strength to do everything that I do,” he says. His empathy runs deep, and has always guided his service. “You need to not judge anyone. Just because you’re up today, doesn’t mean tomorrow you’re gonna be up. You may be down tomorrow. Anyone can be in a tough predicament.”
His hope is to see the younger generation take the reins when it comes to service. “Hopefully I’ll be able to turn it over to someone else. It will already be set up, established, and all they’ll have to do is run with it,” he says.
Bennett is adamant that he doesn’t have any unique gift for altruism, that we can all give back, that the real key to making a difference comes down to caring, and showing up. “If I can do this and make a difference, you can do this and make a difference too.”