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Meet the 'Forklift Ladies' of SVdP

Celebrating 3 women breaking warehouse stereotypes this International Women's Day

It's Wednesday morning. A big semi-truck backs its way into the loading dock area of the Food Reclamation Warehouse at St. Vincent de Paul. The back end of the truck raises its door, and a SVdP forklift makes its way onto the back of the truck to lift a huge pallet of packaged food into the air.

Driving the forklift is a woman. With ease, she quickly manuevers the pallet of food and places it on an upper shelf against the far west well. In fact, she's one of three women forklift drivers on staff at the warehouse. Marlene Garcia, Sylvia Munoz and April Lee all have been trained and certified to operate the heavy machinery. That opportunity wasn't always the norm for women. 

“We get a lot of volunteers, a lot of younger students to come in here and sort,” said Mary Thomas, the warehouse manager.  “And I’ve had some of them do a double take when Marlene, Sylvia or April get on the forklift. They’re like, 'Wow, a woman?!' I’m like, 'Yeah, a woman does that.'”

Five days a week, from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the Food Reclamation Warehouse at SVdP is busy loading and storing food for distribution to the needy. For the month of February, the warehouse brought in 430,763 pounds of food. And these women, deemed “the forklift ladies,” helped lead the way in that service to the community.

Marlene Garcia has worked for 18 years at SVdP.  She is quality control lead and has been operating a forklift for eight years. “I’m actually excited to do it.  There is so much to be done that can’t be done without a forklift,” Marleve said. “I don’t feel so much like a role model, but I do feel like we’re inspiring other women. We can do it, yes we can!” she added.

Sylvia Munoz is the food reclamation supervisor and has been at SVdP for 15 years.  She, likewise, has been operating a forklift for eight years and admits, initially, it was a little intimidating. “At times it was scary. But after a while you learn a lot and get used to it. Sometimes men probably think women can’t do this job. Well, we can. And we show them that we can.”

April Lee is an inventory control specialist at SVdP.  She’s been here for two and half years. She had no previous experience on a forklift and got trained at SVdP. “I think that all the opportunities that we are seeing is opening more and more doors for everybody.  It’s inspiring for women that see folks that look like us doing things that in the past we didn’t have the opportunity to do so.”

Those opportunities are something manager Mary Thomas has worked hard to help grow at SVdP. Over the course of her 20 years here, she's seen a lot of progress and change. 

“When I started out, our manager was a man,” Mary said. “Only men were forklift drivers. Women did all the floor work, scanning, the sweeping, mopping and the cleaning. That was our job.”

But time and opportunities have changed that.  Mary proudly brags that her best forklift drivers have been her women.

“They are fearless,” she said. “I can ask them to do anything and they will. They can unload trucks, pull racks down, pull pallets down and these are heavy pallets (3000-pound pallets) that they are putting on racks,” she said. “I’m very proud of them.  These women are aces. They can do anything.”