SOS Foundation’s Natalie Nites hasn’t slowed down much since the pandemic started. Serving as the Upper Keys coordinator, not only has she been running the pantry in Key Largo, but she’s also coordinated various food distributions from Key Largo to Islamorada in partnership with other organizations.

As the sole member of the SOS team in the Upper Keys, she oversees a food pantry and teaches nutrition education lessons to various schools and after-school programs.

Nites grew up in Cleveland and moved to a Columbus suburb where she attended Denison University to study biology and the environment. Her studies led her to Turks and Caicos Islands where her admiration for marine conservation and ecology grew.

Nites didn’t have any job prospects of interest lined up during her senior year. It led her to pack up and move to Florida with college roommates who were taking part in an AmeriCorps program. Nites plan was to hopefully work at a dive shop, as she had just become a divemaster. She secured a job at Sea Dwellers Dive Center within a few weeks of moving.

With the job becoming unstable following Irma, Nites started seeking employment in the nonprofit sector where she desired to be after college. In 2018, she noticed a job posting with AmeriCorps VISTA program with SOS Foundation, the largest multidimensional hunger-relief organization in Monroe County.

“I had heard of the AmeriCorps programs in the past, but the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program was new to me,” she said. “This program pairs individuals with different non-profits or universities to help improve the community through a variety of projects. This job posting was the first time I had heard of the SOS Foundation so once I familiarized myself with the Foundation I knew I wanted to work there.”

Full name? Have a nickname?
Natalie Nites. “Nats” is really the only one.

How would you describe the experience so far as you continue to help the community through this pandemic?
It’s been overwhelming, rewarding and surprisingly uplifting! It was a big switch to shift from our normal weekly food pantry, to an outside, drive-through set up, but the amount of support from volunteers and the community has been imperative to the continued success. We have some really amazing givers and helpers in this community, and I’m so happy to have met and worked with them throughout these uncertain times.

What’s been most rewarding in what you’ve been doing these past few months? What’s been challenging?
The most rewarding part of the distributions is seeing the amount of healthy food we are able to provide to our clients. The amount of people who are in need of assistance during this pandemic is unprecedented, but it’s an amazing feeling to be able to provide great quality food to all who come through and know that the cost of food will be one less burden to bear. The most challenging part has been not getting to do the other part of my job. I miss the students I teach for the nutrition education lessons a ton.

Have a fond experience you had with a volunteer or person during the food drives?
Fortunately, I have too many to choose from! I will say, it was a blast doing distributions at the Moose Lodge with Wood Campbell as the DJ. I think it made the whole experience a bit more fun/light-hearted for the clients and for the volunteers.

What do you enjoy most about working in the Upper Keys?
The people I work with. I love the Keys and this job has allowed me to meet so many other people who live here and are also doing amazing things for the community. It’s really awesome to be surrounded by doers!

When you have some down time, what do you like to do?
I love to cook, I probably spend a good amount of my weekends trying new recipes. I also enjoy reading, playing pickleball, going to the gym and gardening. I also recently bought a Wii, so I’ve been playing a lot of Mario Kart and Zelda lately.

Have a favorite spot in the Keys to hang out?
Anywhere in the water!

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Oh, what a great question! I would love to go back to Italy and hike the Dolomites.

If you could take anyone out to dinner, dead or alive, who would it be?
Sylvia Earle or Michael Pollan!

If you could have a superhero power, what would it be?
Teleportation. I absolutely love to travel but I’m impatient on long flights and drives.

If you wrote an autobiography, what would the title be?
“Wishful Thinking.”

Who’s been your biggest inspiration throughout your journey?
My students. They are out-of-the-box thinkers and they come up with really interesting solutions to problems, no matter how small or big. They give me a lot of hope in the future and it’s amazing to be a small part of that!

What is one thing that always, always makes you happy?
My cats!

Favorite guilty pleasure?
Cringy reality shows like “Love is Blind” and “Married at First Sight” on Netflix.

What’s your favorite movie or TV show?
“The Office” for TV show, and “Swiss Army Man” for movie.

Finish these sentences…

My biggest causes are… the environment and social justice.
My friends would tell you that I like to… laugh.
Life in the Keys is… very calm if you aren’t on U.S. 1.
SOS Foundation is… an amazing organization that I am proud to be part of!

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Jim McCarthy believes in community reporting, giving back and life on the water. A workout fanatic, diver and a bogey-golfer, Jim loves chicken wings, Marvel movies and sports.