When I joined Loaves & Fishes, I marveled at the commitment, loyalty and diversity of volunteer manpower. Each day was more inspiring than the day before as I would learn the stories of our long term volunteers:
- the couple who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by starting the day volunteering
- the volunteers I see four days every week
- the woman who would always come if she wasn’t feeling too ill from her cancer treatment
- The 90-year-old couple who work Saturday mornings “if it isn’t too icy out”
I had never heard these stories when I volunteered at a shelter or hospital (both very worthy causes). Why does ongoing service at Loaves & Fishes become an expression of one’s character?
Our services are very personal. Volunteers support the empowerment of our low-income neighbors. Aside from food, we also offer programs, classes and services to clients trying to elevate their circumstances from surviving to thriving. For 31 years we have offered the most intimate form of care – providing nutrition so that families do not go hungry.
This compassionate environment permeates every facet of the volunteer experience. Although our manpower may be in the hundreds, we get to know one another without pretense. Working together to sort fruits and vegetables, to provide milk, eggs, cheese is the most basic, almost instinctual act of shared service. It is like preparing your family table to feed those you care about.
The variety of volunteer activities has great breadth as well. A volunteer may not have the ability to stand for three hours moving boxes and stocking cans, so driving the van to our food partners would be a better fit. Others may serve through computer work. We also have skilled positions for those that bring management skills to us. We depend heavily on volunteer leadership for every area of operation or empowerment programs. Loaves & Fishes has training and advancement for individuals that would like greater responsibility.
Volunteer Rob Kostelny summed it up this way: “What makes Loaves & Fishes unique is the wide spectrum of volunteer work you can do. At most other places you do the same thing shift after shift and everyone around you does the same thing. At Loaves & Fishes if you hit a saturation point as to what you volunteer for, there are other areas you can move into.”
Loaves & Fishes is always evolving and examining the way we provide our services. Last spring I called together a team of seasoned volunteers that brought many years of executive leadership to a “Logistics Committee.” We developed strategies to achieve necessary operational changes and a timeline to coincide with the start of our new fiscal year. The synergy of this group of men and women was infectious! Weekly meetings were supported by daily conversations and emails. Expert knowledge was brought in through the network of these enthusiastic volunteers. The group continues to watch for best practices throughout our facility.
Along with the good work that is performed inside of Loaves & Fishes, there are many gatherings outside of the building. We have annual picnics, bowling, visits to baseball games, plays and a formal dinner celebration. Volunteers love to have their family meet their “Loaves & Fishes family” at these gatherings. Visits are made to fellow volunteers during times of illness, injury or life’s stresses. At times of family loss volunteers are a supportive presence at wakes and shivas.
Compassion is a core value of Loaves & Fishes. It is amazing to see the compassion that is expressed by volunteers.
“It (volunteering) brings me a sense of family and friendships. I also know that I am needed!” chuckles volunteer Audrey Lisk.
Shelly Schmitz, Director of Volunteer Engagement