This fall, Episcopal Charities took the next step forward in supporting parish-based outreach programs by launching a volunteer program pilot in Manhattan and the Bronx. For over twenty years, we have supported outreach programs by providing grants and professional development workshops, but when we asked our programs what else they needed, the response we heard most was volunteers. Because Episcopal Charities has relationships with programs and parishes across the diocese, we’re in a unique position to help mobilize volunteers who have energy, experience, and a desire to serve and match them to outreach programs that are doing the important work of feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, educating the next generation, and more.
Clarine Johnson, a parishioner at Holy Trinity in Inwood, is one of our first volunteers. She first came to Episcopal Charities in October after receiving an e-mail about the volunteer pilot project, and she has been volunteering with St. Mary’s Food Pantry in Harlem ever since.
She said, “As soon as I got the e-mail, I thought, I am going to answer this! And I’m so glad I did.” St. Mary’s Food Pantry, a client-choice pantry that needs volunteers to assist clients, “is a lovely program,” Clarine said. She particularly enjoys how much she gets to “actually interact with the clients…talk to them, get to know them.”
“You can see in their faces how glad they are,” says Clarine about the pantry clients.
Hunger is a feeling that “really resonates” with Clarine. She grew up in Belize, where her mother was a domestic worker and single mother of five.
“We would be waiting for her to come home sometimes,” recalls Clarine. “She would bring leftovers from work. We were so grateful for it. But other times, my sister had to portion out the food so we would have enough [for] tomorrow.”
“It’s a hard feeling to not have enough to eat,” says Clarine. “It changed me immensely.”
Experiencing hunger as a child gave Clarine the desire to give back, and volunteering through Episcopal Charities has given her the opportunity to do just that. She said it also gave her the opportunity to build relationships with the “hard-working” people of St. Mary’s. By launching the volunteer program, Episcopal Charities hopes not just to help outreach programs and provide parishioners with more opportunities to serve, but also to build relationships between parishes.
To those who are on the fence about volunteering, Clarine urges them to “Come and see! Don’t say you don’t have time. After you come, you’ll want to make time.”
There are opportunities for groups, for individuals of all ages, for all days of the week, for all levels of commitment and skill. Beyond soup kitchens and food pantries, there are opportunities to work with children, to serve adults living in homeless shelters, to help those impacted by the criminal justice system, and more. There are also opportunities for people with business and professional expertise to share their skills and talents. Those interested in serving can call 212-932-7354 or fill out a volunteer application form at ec-ny.org/volunteer.
While the volunteer program is currently based in Manhattan and Bronx, we have good news for those who live in other parts of the diocese and want to serve: Episcopal Charities plans on rolling out the volunteer program to the entire diocese in early 2018. We’re also planning a diocesan-wide day of service in the spring.
There are plenty of opportunities to serve. Episcopal Charities wants to help you find them.
And in doing so, you’ll help build relationships, strengthen communities, and transform the lives of those in need. As Clarine says, “You’re making somebody happy. You’re putting a meal on somebody’s table.”
Rachel Crosby is the Volunteer Coordinator at Episcopal Charities. To get involved as a volunteer, or to share your outreach program’s volunteer needs, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.