Meet PORCH Volunteers Mark and Sophia Simpson


Mark and Sophia Simpson have worn many hats as volunteers for PORCH over the years – bagging chickens, completing deliveries, directing traffic at our food distributions, lifting the heaviest of produce boxes, and more! After too many shifts to count, they are moving west (for now!) to be closer to family but plan to remain involved when they return to the area for visits. And of course, their volunteer efforts will continue in their new place of residence. 

“We plan on finding an organization worthy of PORCH’s example wherever we end up – and no, we have not yet decided where that is!” Mark says.  

The Simpsons both worked at IBM for many years while living in Chapel Hill and have three adult daughters. Sophia is Chinese and was born and raised in Saigon, Vietnam. She survived the Tet war in 1968 and then the fall of Saigon in 1975. She was rescued by the American Red Cross in 1978 and found refuge in Taiwan. In 1980, she was reunited with her older sister, who she had not seen for 12 years, in New Jersey. Not knowing any English and having not been in school since the fifth grade in Vietnam, it was quite challenging for her to start in the middle of 10th grade in an American high school. “I am so thankful for all the kind teachers who provided much needed help and encouragement,” she says. 

About her career, she adds: “I was the only non-American female engineer in a male-dominated technical field in a large, high tech company. I know how it feels to be the odd person out. I also understand the challenges of being a refugee in a country where [you] do not speak the language and are not familiar with all of the cultural differences. I personally appreciate the importance and the value of belonging to a good community. I am and will always be so grateful for Laurie and Michael Goldwasser for introducing me to Debbie Horwitz and the entire CHC Porch community. They all made us feel so welcomed!” 

Read on to learn more about the Simpsons – we are so grateful that they selected PORCH as the nonprofit to receive so much of their sweat equity over the years! 

How did you first hear about PORCH? 

Sophia: Our neighbors, Laurie and Michael Goldwasser, introduced me to PORCH in 2016, and I started by sorting food in Debbie Horwitz’s garage shortly thereafter. 

Mark: I heard about PORCH through my wife, Sophia. She had been involved several years before I was. I always admired her for this work because she seemed so committed to it and happy to be involved. So, when my professional circumstances changed in 2020, and I had more free time, I decided to tag along initially to spend more time with Sophia, and I am so glad I did!

You have done so many different things as PORCH volunteers! Any favorite tasks? And what memories stand out over your many volunteer shifts? 

Sophia: Ever since I retired from my high-tech position at IBM, I’ve enjoyed staying active and productive. As a full-time engineer, a mother to three daughters, a wife, and a homeowner, there are no jobs too big or too small. My favorite task is to load the heavy produce box into the car trunk. Because once the big box(es) are in, the rest of the food can more easily fit anywhere, and the job is done. So many wonderful memories volunteering with wonderful like-minded friends! Simply being able to be part of the PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro community and seeing the smiling faces driving by to pick up foods is a great blessing!

Mark: For me, it wasn’t the specific tasks that were important but the special moments, like when the children in the cars picking up the food smiled, or when PORCH leadership made me feel that I was making a difference to the mission. That was what was important and all I needed. Also, just the friendships we made with other volunteers. The awesome PORCH community. I am proud to be part of that and to call them my friends.

Do you always volunteer together? Do you find it to be a unique bonding experience, to serve the community with your spouse? 

Mark: We do. Other than traffic control at the beginning, I am always with Sophia in “Team 1.” My reason for doing this is to spend more time with Sophia in a context that matters, and I am grateful that we get to team together! One of the things that I cherish about our relationship is that she complements my weaknesses, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Sophia: Mark and I started to volunteer together since he retired in 2020. We look forward to volunteering at PORCH every month, and that is something we quite enjoy doing together. You said it so well: serving the community together has been a unique bonding experience in our marriage.

What would you say to someone thinking about getting involved with PORCH? 

Sophia: Please DO IT! You will meet the most amazing, compassionate, kind, and capable people who enjoy making positive changes in the community.

Mark: Wow. There are lots of ways to spend your time. Time should be spent feeling fulfilled and making a difference. PORCH is one important way that I am able to do that. I cannot recommend it enough!

Why do you think PORCH’s mission is so critical? 

Sophia: Fighting hunger resonates with me as I have experienced being hungry growing up in Vietnam – especially at night trying to fall asleep hungry. PORCH provides the community with well thought through nutritious food to meet dietary needs for a healthy lifestyle.

Mark: The community we serve really needs our help. They have limited options. I cannot imagine what some of these families (and their children) would do if they did not have access to the services we provide. I do believe it is critical that this mission continues to grow and thrive.