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What it means to give back at Catholic Charities

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... our food pantries continue to serve increasing numbers of clients each week, and the need for volunteers to help stock the shelves and pack bags of food to distribute to community members in need never abates.

With the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, the need in many of our communities continues to grow, and this increasing need is even more evident as we approach the holiday season. For many, however, the holiday season marks a time of giving thanks and giving back by volunteering.

Catholic Charities of Boston (CCAB)'s Volunteer Services team recently discussed the crucial role that volunteerism plays in the agency, how COVID-19 has altered things, and how people can be safely involved with Catholic Charities this holiday season and beyond.

Q: What is Catholic Charities' volunteer services program, and what kind of volunteer opportunities exist at CCAB? Can you talk a little bit about the different groups of people who dedicate their time to the organization and what projects they work on?

A: Catholic Charities has a robust volunteer services program that makes it possible for us to serve more of our community members each year. Volunteers are part of every aspect of Catholic Charities -- from governance by the board of trustees and regional advisory boards, to unloading food deliveries and restocking the shelves at our five food pantries. Each of the seven divisions of the agency has a dedicated staff person to coordinate that particular division's volunteer needs. Because Catholic Charities offers so many programs and services across many service locations, volunteer opportunities vary from division to division, based on the program offerings.

Catholic Charities has a good mix of longtime individual and group volunteers. With consistent and dependable volunteers, program managers are able to focus on serving clients, while group volunteers help tackle big projects, sometimes in just a day. Some of our programs -- including mentoring, adult education, and workforce development, for example -- flourish with committed individual volunteers who are able to interact directly with clients. We also have amazing corporate partners who typically volunteer for one-day projects, such as sorting donations, unloading a food delivery, and weeding/planting gardens at our shelters. Many school and parish volunteer groups have developed long-term relationships with specific programs and, though the individual members of the group may change over time, the institutional relationships are long and vibrant. We are so grateful for each and every volunteer who dedicates time to help strengthen our programs and services.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic altered volunteerism at CCAB?

A: At the onset of the pandemic, many of Catholic Charities' programs moved to remote delivery, so in-person volunteers weren't needed in the same way. In these uncertain times, we are thankful that some volunteers shifted to remote volunteering and make phone and Zoom calls to stay connected with clients. With many people continuing to face job loss and reduced work hours due to the pandemic, we are hearing from more people who want to volunteer their time with us, while at the same time, continuing to work through the new paradigm with fewer traditional volunteer opportunities. We rely on volunteers to help us help others, while remaining committed to keeping our staff, clients, and volunteers healthy and safe during a global pandemic. We maintain 100 percent compliance with all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and new Catholic Charities protocols, and therefore, volunteer opportunities look different these days.

Q: How can people get involved if they are interested?

A: Typically, we offer a mix of seasonal volunteer opportunities, particularly around the holidays, and opportunities that exist year-round. Currently, there are limited in-person opportunities compared with pre-pandemic times, but our food pantries continue to serve increasing numbers of clients each week, and the need for volunteers to help stock the shelves and pack bags of food to distribute to community members in need never abates. We also have several remote volunteer opportunities with our Adult Education programs for those looking to make a longer-term commitment.

Each year, we welcome volunteers to adopt a family for Christmas as a part of our Family Aid-365 program that matches a client family with a donor family to provide support throughout the year for holidays, birthdays, and other life events. To learn more, you can visit our website (www.ccab.org/Family_365). Friends Feeding Families is a year-round program where volunteers organize food drives in their communities, workplaces, etc., to help us stock our pantries. Donation drives provide a way to involve children in a family's giving tradition. Food, toiletries, cold-weather gear in winter months, sunscreen in the summer, backpacks and school supplies -- each type of donation drive makes a huge impact in the lives of our clients.

Volunteering broadens your horizons, keeps you learning new things, and introduces you to people you only meet when you volunteer. While your ability to volunteer changes with your life-cycle, no matter where you are in the cycle, you can positively affect someone's life by volunteering at Catholic Charities.

To learn more about volunteering at Catholic Charities of Boston, please visit ccab.org/volunteer.

JACQUELINE CUNNIFF IS THE MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER AT CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF BOSTON.



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