Volunteering in the Age of Coronavirus

by bbdeveloper | October 16, 2020

In the last year, 6,852 people volunteered more than 110,000 hours to serve people in need through Catholic Charities DC. Volunteers provide critical support to our staff, which has enabled us to help thousands of people each year. So, when the D.C. area shutdown from the pandemic, we had to quickly develop new ways to engage volunteers to keep them connected to our community.

Before the pandemic, the volunteer engagement team managed 20 in-person service projects a month. Volunteers of all ages, from students to seniors, participated in individual activities like hosting game nights with shelter residents and cleaning the Kennedy School, as well as long-term opportunities for professionals like doctors, dentists, and lawyers.

While the pandemic initially halted volunteer programs, the team was able to quickly pivot to remote volunteering, moving mentor and professional service programs online. After two weeks and the addition of new safety protocols, volunteers were welcomed back for limited in-person projects focused on food assistance.

“We’ve still been executing 20 events per month,” said Maggie O’Neill, manager of volunteer engagement, “but now we’ve been almost singularly focused on food outreach.”

Volunteers were instrumental to helping launch large-scale food distributions as part of a COVID-19 response. Masked and socially distanced, they handed out 500 to 1,000 packages of food to hungry families at each event. In addition, volunteers assembled food boxes at SHARE Food Network, and distributed food in efforts by the Spanish Catholic Center, Catholic Charities Center, and Southern Maryland Food Bank.

For those who couldn’t join staff on the front lines, we invited our community to contribute distantly through several newly established projects. In an effort to protect employees and clients, we encouraged supporters to sew and donate masks to ensure safety protocols are being followed throughout the agency. So far, these volunteers have provided thousands of masks for case managers, social workers, medical providers, and more.

“We’ve had 34 students from various schools make face masks,” said Claire Sanfilippo, school outreach and volunteer events coordinator.  “They have provided nearly 1,100 masks to keep our community safe.”

O’Neill and her team also initiated a letter-writing campaign so volunteers and supporters could communicate their gratitude and sense of solidarity to our essential workers.

While volunteer operations look very different than they did in 2019, the work of these helpers is more important than ever. For more information about volunteer projects, including those during the holiday season, visit