Throughout the past year, the resilience of our clients, the dedication of our volunteers and the creativity of our staff have helped JFS carry out its vision, that no one in our community should suffer hunger, isolation, abandonment, emotional or physical distress, or lack of community support and caring.
April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, and Jewish Family Service is more appreciative than ever. The agency has provided services and programs uninterrupted during a global pandemic because of our core of devoted, creative and caring volunteers.
“Even on our best day, we rely on volunteers. We could have a million ideas, but none would come to fruition without the volunteers who are willing to trust JFS and put others’ needs ahead of themselves,” said JFS Community Impact Coordinator Rebecca Axelrod-Cooper.
In the beginning of the pandemic, JFS closed its doors for six weeks, and all staff worked remotely.
“I began getting calls from volunteers asking to continue working! One volunteer said they hate being home, is there anything that needs delivering around town?” said Chelsea Karp, volunteer coordinator for JFS.
At that same time, the older adult case manager for the agency realized people were having trouble getting their groceries. The Shop Gap program was born – a grocery delivery service for older adults and people with disabilities to be able to receive groceries without leaving their homes.
The Brit Olam group from Congregation Keneseth Israel expressed concern that people living in older adult long-term care residences would be isolated. If JFS could organize a program, they would volunteer. And from that phone call came an exponential growth in our Phone-a-Friend program where volunteers make friendly phone calls each month to help reduce the feeling of social isolation that so many have felt even more with the pandemic.
These stories happened again and again. In a year where many nonprofit organizations were unable to continue their work with volunteers, the JFS volunteer program thrived. New programs originated, existing programs were reimagined and services continued.
“We weren’t sure if volunteers would feel safe enough to come back. We can’t operate without volunteers. We put out the welcome mat saying, are you willing to come back? We can’t have success without you,” said Axelrod-Cooper.
Based on CDC guidelines, new operating procedures were put in place to have a reduced number of staff and volunteers in the building safely including hand washing, wearing masks, no two people in the same room and contactless food distribution to help ensure confidence in working on site at JFS.
A small group of volunteers came back, along with a new teen corp who had extra time in their schedules. The pantry was up and running only six weeks after the initial shelter-in-place order.
Thanks to the tireless support of our volunteers, throughout the past year we have been able to continue and expand old programs such as the Community Food Pantry, Phone-A-Friend, ShareCare driving, Schmooze & Schmear and Mazel Meals and introduce new ones like the Shop-Gap Program, Better Together, Send-A-Card and holiday outreach videos for older adults.