BY BOBBI ALMEIDA
“Until you do it, you do not realize the impact volunteering has – not only on the people you are helping but on yourself as well.”
April is volunteer appreciation month. I want to take this opportunity to talk about the impact of volunteering.
Volunteering literally changed my life in ways that I never thought possible. While most people have their reasons for volunteering, mine started out as what I would consider selfish. I started out at the Marian House once a month for three hours. To be honest, when my friend asked me to go, I had never even heard of the Marian House and had no idea what to expect from the time I would spend at the soup kitchen. I left that day with a heavy heart. Sadly though, it was not life-changing at that time. For me, it was a few hours counting people with a grocery store scanner and a page of bar codes. This went on for several months until I hit a dark time in my life. It was at this moment that I decided I had to do something, or this darkness was going to get the best of me. I woke up one day and said to myself, “You can lay in bed and cry all day, or you can get up, go to the Marian House and help feed people who have real-life issues.”
This was the start of my newfound passion and the moment that volunteering literally changed my life. I began to volunteer twice a week, every week. I found a place where I could lose myself and become a whole different person! For almost three years, I kept up this pace. I would volunteer anytime I was not at work and when the Marian House was open. I built a rapport with the clients, staff, and volunteers that ultimately helped land me the position of weekend security officer. There was not a day that went by that I did not feel the impact of my service. In this two-year time frame, I logged about 1,500 volunteer hours, and most of them were a way for me to hide from the depression that had taken over my life. There was not a day spent at the Marian House where I did not feel appreciated and actually felt like I mattered. I still volunteer on the rare occasion that I am not working because I love it that much!
When I hear volunteer appreciation, it really seems too simple to me. There are so many people that benefit from volunteering. Starting with the obvious – the clients. The Marian House serves, on average, about 600+ meals a day. I was there when we served 819 people during a rainy day barbecue in April 2018. These meals are not possible without the many volunteers who make it happen every day of the year.
The soup kitchen staff also benefits from the work of the volunteers. Generally, there are 3-6 staff members working on a daily basis. To have a smooth running service, it takes a village. From food prep to clean up, there is so much that needs to be done to feed the hungry people that come through the door successfully. This is not possible without the volunteers.
To put it into perspective: Volunteers are at Marian House from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, spread across two shifts. With roughly 74 volunteers a day, the average number of volunteer hours per day is 250. Let me throw one more number your way… 90,000. That is the number of volunteer hours, roughly, that it takes to run the soup kitchen each year successfully. As a staff member, I cannot even begin to express the appreciation I have for the volunteers. I think I speak for the entire staff when I say thank you for what you do.
Whether you are a first-timer or a seasoned veteran, you are the reason the Marian House is successful day in and day out. If you have not volunteered, then you have no idea what you are missing. Many of our volunteers have been volunteering for years. I recently worked with a lady who has been a volunteer since 1988. There is something to be said about volunteering if people are spending 31 years of their life doing it.
April is volunteer appreciation month; however, in my world, every day is volunteer appreciation. If you are reading this and have not volunteered, I encourage you to do so. There is a link on the Catholic Charities website with information, or feel free to call the volunteer office at 719-866-6559.
Bobbi Almeida is a former weekend security guard for Catholic Charities.