by Tim Kean
In 2019 we were blessed to have 27,000 volunteer hours donated to our organization by thousands of people from all 8 counties in our service area. The logical question is “Was that enough?”. The answer is no, we had many gaps that we scrambled to fill and still have shortages each week.
Meeting our truck in a large parking lot at 8:00 a.m. to load food into waiting cars is not glamorous, but can be very rewarding. Many of our first-time volunteers tell us they were blown away by the sheer number of cars and people to receive assistance. They were also surprised to hear the gratitude shared with them by the people in the cars. They were again surprised to see that several people got out of their cars to help distribute food to others.
Our Tailgate Distribution initiative has been in place for decades and happens every month in each county. If you have 2 hours you could donate once a month, you could impact the lives of hundreds of struggling families. Face-to-face encounters can change a person’s perception, pre-conceived judgement, and stereotypes. Volunteer with the idea that your viewpoints may be changed in the experience.
We have a volunteer group in every school connected with The Big Idea initiative that plays an integral role with relationship building engagement. The volunteers do the heavy lifting, so teachers and staff can engage with families and form new bonds focused on the child’s progress in school.
Community engagement at the ground level in our Forward STEPS initiative has community members committing to form new relationships over many months with participating families that act as 2-way accountability partners. This type of volunteer is provided some prior intentional workshops that helps them to better understand viewpoints that may be different from their own. The engagement looks more like learning how to do life together rather than coming to “fix” a problem.
Hundreds of unsung volunteer heroes are stepping up daily, weekly or monthly to participate in church food pantries, soup kitchens and community centers. They encounter thousands of people coming through the doors and many of these dedicated volunteers have served in this capacity for decades. Again, another face to face opportunity to serve that can change a prospective if you aren’t careful.
Serving as a volunteer doesn’t always have to be on the “front line” in order to make a big impact. We have an “open door” volunteer policy at our facility. You don’t have to call ahead and make an appointment, you can just show up any hours from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday and on the first Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon. If you are bringing a group of 6 or more, you may want to call ahead and let us know you’re coming, but you’re always welcome. We anticipate volunteers to come so we should always be set up to accommodate volunteers every day. Our goal is to be the easiest place for communities to come and volunteer and have the greatest volunteer experience they have encountered. Some have been coming every week for years, like Jeanne Manship who comes in specifically to bale cardboard, very helpful to keep the place organized.
Sorting and packaging products to be distributed is not the only way to engage when you visit our facility. We have people who prefer the office, mailroom, and working with our various program managers in our offices, as well. Outside, inside, warehouse, office, stand up or sit down, we are excited to engage with you! For further details, contact Kellie Arrowood, Volunteer Coordinator at 765-287-8698 x 105 or firstname.lastname@example.org.