Julia Narum is all about making connections. You can hear the excitement in her voice as she recounts the lives she’s touched and the friends she’s made over the course of a lifetime lived in service to others. And these connections have played a major role in the growth of Keep Austin Fed – not only did Julia introduce founding KAF leaders Randy Rosens and Ira Kaplan, but she’s now a vital cog in the day-to-day operations of the organization, acting as the human switchboard connecting surplus food donations with a KAF volunteer to deliver the donation to those who need it most.
“I’ve always been able to connect the dots,” says Julia. “Doing something you enjoy is important, but also the surroundings, the people. I look at my friends as a tree, from my inner circle out to the furthest branches. I have a really great support system.”
Long before her role took shape with Keep Austin Fed, she knew she was here to help others. Originally from Houston, she completed her undergrad at Louisiana State University and then moved to Denton, TX to pursue a master’s degree in therapeutic recreation at the University of North Texas. This led to an internship in Italy, working for the U.S. Navy’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program, which eventually led to a job at Austin’s Danny G. McBeth Recreation Center. Austin just felt like home, she says. “I can’t picture myself anywhere else,” Julia admits. “I love the water and the hills. I’m a water person.” It was at McBeth where Julia first met KAF founder Randy Rosens and began helping deliver bread around the city. She urged him to connect with Ira, her next-door neighbor, who was involved in a similar bread delivery project. “Randy and Ira couldn’t stand to see waste, and I’m the same way. That’s why I have a pile of stuff in my garage, waiting for me to find a way to use it!” Julia laughs. A few weeks later, while at a wheelchair sports conference in Colorado, she got a call from Randy. “Guess who I’m standing next to?” he asked. Meeting Ira was no coincidence, according to Julia. “They were meant to meet,” she declares.
As Keep Austin Fed expanded to deliver more than just surplus bread, there was a clear need for someone to match up the myriad donations of produce, meat, and other non-perishable food with organizations who could quickly distribute it to those in need, as well as with a KAF food runner to make the delivery. It should come as no surprise that Julia was a natural fit for the role. “It’s a complex little recipe,” explains Julia. “It’s just about taking all the information and making the best move each time I get that text. I really try to make sure all the pieces fit.” When her phone rings with an emergency food donation needing a home, like 200 Freebirds burritos after a Blues on the Green event, Julia doesn’t panic. “If we get a donation of bananas, I know Outcry in the Barrio is a good place to go because they make banana bread from old bananas. I know SafePlace and Easter Seals keep more normal business hours, but Austin Restoration Ministries and our residential recipients are open just about any time,” she goes on. “The reason there’s no pressure is because I know I have awesome volunteers to rely on. I can’t tell you how quickly six or seven people will be on their way [to pick up a donation]. It’s so powerful, because there’s just this huge group of us shooting out all over the city.”
On top of her role with KAF, Julia’s served with Helping Hand Home for Children as well as aiding those with physical disabilities at the Austin City Limits music festival for the last twelve years, volunteering with a special access program which – among other perks – designates exclusive vantage points for festival-goers with physical or hearing impairments. “We’re just there to make sure everyone is taken care of,” Julia says. “Maybe you or I can walk across the grass to that port-a-potty, but another person can’t. I’ve always had to think things through not just for myself, but for other people, and I think that’s what helps me know what type of food would work.”
The ‘how’ may be complex, but for Julia, the ‘why’ couldn’t be more simple. “You just meet quality, giving, loving people, and who doesn’t want to be around that all the time?” she asks. “I don’t do it for myself; I do it because it makes a difference. It’s nice to get to the end of the day and feel like you made a difference.”
And the difference she makes is tangible, measured by conversations, smiles and hugs with the friends she meets along the way. Julia recently returned to volunteering at McBeth Recreation Center and beams as she remembers what it was like going back. “I stepped back in that door and guess what I got – LOTS of hugs. When I posted that on Facebook it just blew up! It’s the conversations that you have with the people you affect … they tell you something that makes you think, ‘I did the right thing.’”
Julia continues, “You know, I’m only here for a short amount of time, so why not try to do things that matter? I don’t plan on leaving a big mark, but I can’t imagine going through life and having it be ‘me, me, me’, because by doing these things it does kind of come back to who I want to be and the difference I want to make. It’s important to have an end to journey towards, but it’s the journey that matters in the end.” She laughs. “I think that will be my next tattoo.”
RecognizeGood is a local nonprofit organization that seeks to illuminate GOOD in our community. We believe that by shining a light on selfless acts of volunteerism, charity and community service, we can inspire others and thereby elevate the collective power of good. Visit recognizegood.org to learn more about our programs or to get involved.