Volunteers Continue to Serve Even as They Social Distance

by Claire Sanfilippo | April 21, 2020

Normally during a week, dozens of volunteers bring the love of our community to Catholic Charities’ clients as they contribute to activities from game nights at homeless shelters to meal service at St. Maria’s Meals.

In so many ways, volunteers are vital to the work we at Catholic Charities do to serve the Washington community. Last year alone, more than 5,300 people volunteered 143,000 hours.

Whether they are students completing their service hours, retired adults looking for ways to use their free time, or families wanting to instill the value of service in their children, many caring individuals and families take to heart the mission and vision of our organization and give of their time and energy.

It is an honor to work with so many caring individuals and families who show us what it means to actively live out faith through action.

Because volunteers do so much for the agency, it was a difficult — but necessary — decision to suspend most volunteer activities because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This includes ongoing projects like Mulumba House game nights and SHARE Food Network package bagging, along with special projects with community partners like the Academy of the Holy Cross’ All School Day of Service when 40 students and teachers were scheduled to serve across the agency.

Our volunteers certainly feel the loss of community and service this pandemic has caused.

Peter Kramer, a HOPE Corps volunteer at Mulumba House, says: “I found a great deal of joy in serving the men at Mulumba House and being part of the Catholic Charities community. It’s tough to lose that temporarily, and I worry about the guys we serve because I know they’re among the most vulnerable to this pandemic. I understand that canceling these events was the right call for everyone’s safety, and I’m looking forward to getting back to it once we get through this crisis.”

While many volunteer activities are suspended, some are continuing thanks to remote work. Mentors working with the Welcome Home Re-entry Program and Trafficking Victims Assistance Program, tax preparers with the Financial Stability Network, and instructors for ESOL classes continue to communicate with program participants via phone, email or video conferencing.

Amanuel Duga, volunteer services program supervisor for the Financial Stability Network, says that program’s volunteers have been “understanding of the fact that we are modifying the way we serve our customers. They are eager to serve in any way they can, especially now that there is a growing demand for the service they provide.”

Additionally, adjustments in how St. Maria’s Meals are served to accommodate social distancing mean that a few volunteers continue to contribute to that program. Volunteers pack meals inside Catholic Charities’ building, which are then offered in a grab-and-go system on the sidewalk outside.

Although we don’t like telling volunteers to stay away, social distancing is an excellent form of service. And we invite volunteers to help in these additional ways:

  • Pray for the health and safety of our front-line workers and clients.
  • Sew cloth face coverings for use by the staff and clients of our homeless shelters and food programs. Directions are posted here.
  • Write a note of encouragement or have your child draw a picture of hope, which we’ll share with clients to lift their spirits and sense of isolation. Contributions can be mailed to Catholic Charities, Attn: Tara Arras, 924 G St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

And know that, as the crisis passes, the Volunteer Engagement Office will be working hard to incorporate the many talented volunteers back into our work.

Claire Sanfilippo is school outreach and volunteer events coordinator at Catholic Charities DC.