Dustin Freeman loves a good roller coaster ride and he taught his father, Rik Hoskins, to parasail a few years ago. This summer he hopes to make his first sky dive.
When it comes to slower pursuits, Freeman, 29, can be found at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest N.C., where he’s volunteered for the past 17 years. Freeman’s service recently earned him a Governor’s Volunteer Service Award for perseverance in volunteering.
When he was in the seventh grade at Lowrance Middle School, Freeman learned about the Food Bank. He understood that there were people who were hungry and that he could help, and he’s been helping ever since. Every Wednesday and Thursday morning, Freeman is at the Food Bank with his caregiver, Shay Surratt.
Freeman suffered a traumatic brain injury at the age of 2. Doctors advised his father to put him in a group home at the age of 5 and said that Freeman would never advance much further. Hoskins said no.
“I began to treat him as nothing but normal,” Hoskins says. “I wanted him to make his own decisions and build his own way with my guidance, as you would do with any child.”
Freeman, who is 6-foot-3 and able to lift 260 pounds, started out in the Food Bank’s warehouse, but he found he preferred the challenge of sorting foods in the salvage room. His intense concentration makes him a valuable worker, and his detail orientation in putting together boxes of food means he’s often supervising other workers.
“He’ll bring the room to life,” says Mark Joyce, the Food Bank’s salvage coordinator. “He’ll walk in and start high-fiving and introducing himself.”
Sue Reichel, the Food Bank’s volunteer coordinator, says that Freeman inspires the other volunteers. “He comes in the door, and we’re as excited to see him as he is to see us. That’s very powerful; it motivates others to see someone so passionate.”
Freeman’s physical strength, energy, and coordination—despite being blind in one eye—have earned him medals in bowling and basketball in the Special Olympics. In addition to his work at the Food Bank, Freeman also volunteers at the Lowes Foods on Reynolda Road. Once when a woman tried to give Freeman a tip, he told her to give the money to someone who needs it.
“He’ll continue to grow in whatever direction he’d like,” Hoskins says. “He can excel at anything he wants to do.”