Coretta Scott King said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” While April’s National Volunteer Month was organized to honor compassion and encourage volunteerism, the work is year-round, and all the more so since the pandemic hit, confirming to local volunteer organizations that their work would be needed now more than ever.
As well as creating new needs, Covid also forced volunteers to find new ways of helping. While Feeding Westchester saw requests for food increase almost daily, restrictions on in-person volunteering didn’t stop caring community members from wanting to offer assistance. So, Feeding Westchester developed the “Help from Home” project, where volunteers can pack a plastic storage bag at home filled with items needed for complete meals. “People have a lot of fun putting these together. They’re incredibly helpful and an easy way for us to get good, solid complete meals to our agencies,” said Nancy Lyons, Director of Volunteer Services at Feeding Westchester.
Volunteers of America–Greater New York faced similar setbacks when it came to organizing their annual Operation Backpack®, where children living in homeless shelters are given a backpack filled with necessary school supplies every year. “Normally we have over 140 volunteers a day help fill these backpacks over the summer months. So we needed to pivot,” said Rachel Weinstein, Vice President of Communications & External Relations. VOA-GNY asked the corporate and individual volunteers to form on-line teams to raise the funds to purchase the items needed. With very limited staff, they were able to send a full box of supplies to all 18,000 children who needed school supplies this year.
When Ossining’s food pantry temporarily shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, residents cleverly transformed their newly built Little Library boxes into Little Pantries. Organized by the Ossining PTA, the seven little boxes housed non-perishable food and hygiene products and were maintained by caring community members. Now that the little domiciles are back to hosting their intended guests – books – the PTA has directed donations back to the Ossining Food Pantry and/or to the new resource center on Spring St, Ossining Padres Hispanos.
And Covid gave rise to innovative volunteerism, too, like Lasagna Love, based on a simple concept: make lasagna at home and deliver it to struggling families, whether that struggle is financial, emotional or simply feeling overwhelmed. “I learned about Lasagna Love when I saw some posts on Instagram,” said Shivanne Shah, Lasagna Love Regional Leader, Northern Westchester/Putnam & Dutchess County. “It was the perfect thing for me. I love to cook and needed a new way to volunteer.” Ossining resident Gina Palladino joined Lasagna Love when the pandemic broke. “Lasagna Love afforded me an opportunity to continue the volunteer work that I enjoy – providing people in need with a good home cooked meal. Since the pandemic, many of the usual ways to help have been limited, so this is a way to safely help.”
While many have stepped up, there remains no shortage of ways to get involved. Most organizations have a “ways to help” tab on their website that goes beyond cash donations. Pam Lipperman, Director of Volunteers at Phelps Hospital, encourages people to complete an application on their “Get Involved” page. “All applicants are responded to and put on a contact list for when in-person volunteering resumes,” she says. “Volunteering was the backbone at Phelps and it’s our mission to work with committed people who help to make a difference. We have dedicated individuals and they’re going to come back, stronger than ever.
Ways to Help:
- When in-person volunteering resumes: Junior & Senior applications phelps.northwell.edu/volunteer-application
- Sign up to cook Lasagna & Deliver: lasagnalove.org/volunteer-2
- Operation Backpack®: voa-gny.org/get-involved
- Help From Home Spring Needs: