May 18, 2011 • By

A volunteer who does it all

At General Mills, we’re proud to say that more than 82 percent of our U.S. workforce volunteers in some way, every year. Whether it’s for a company-sponsored event during the workday or for organizations that our employees are involved in away from work, volunteering is a huge part of the company culture.

Some people volunteer as a way of paying it forward; others as a way of paying it back.

Vanessa Little does a little of both. As a result, giving to others has become a major part of her personal and professional life.

Over the past eight years, Vanessa, a senior technician at General Mills’ Riverside Technical Center in Minneapolis, Minn., has spearheaded dozens of volunteer initiatives.

She launched an “Adopt a Troop” initiative to secure donations for troops in Iraq. She championed a divisional Rosetta Stone program to help co-workers learn Spanish, with monthly lunches to help practice newly attained language skills. She also leads a General Mills contingent of Habitat for Humanity volunteers, delivers for Meals on Wheels, collects socks and mittens for a Loaves and Fishes event and coordinates an annual “Adopt a Family” initiative that serves local and international families in need.

Does that sound like a full plate to you?

Vanessa also is the type of volunteer who fearlessly dives in when and where she’s needed.


Last February, she raised money for Special Olympics Minnesota by jumping into the freezing waters of a lake.

So, what drives Vanessa, a wife and mother of a junior high girl, to give up her spare time for causes that help people, many of whom she’ll never meet?

Growing up the oldest of three kids in a small Iowa town, Vanessa felt the financial sting of her parent’s divorce.

“I can remember the Christmas after they divorced, there wasn’t anything underneath the Christmas tree when we went to bed,” she says.

Late that Christmas Eve, there was a knock at the door. It wasn’t Santa, as Vanessa had hoped. Instead, it was a group of strangers carrying packages of food and gifts for the family. Vanessa peeked out of her bedroom door and watched her mother protest, before breaking down into tears. After that, the strangers streamed through the front door, filling the cupboard and placing presents under the tree.

Vanessa still remembers the moment clearly.

“It’s still very touching, even as an adult, to remember how it felt when I realized that someone we didn’t know cared enough to want to help us.” she says. “I hope by what I’m doing now I can make other people’s holidays a little brighter and their lives a little easier.”

What inspires you to volunteer?