Volunteerism is a long-held cultural value in the United States. While it does feel good to donate time and labor to lend a supportive hand toward a worthy cause, we may take these actions for granted if we don’t really see the significant impact it plays in filling critical community needs.
Many people are introduced to volunteering through built-in programs at religious institutions, youth scouts, and/or work programs. Big businesses also set up volunteer opportunities for employees.
Volunteers work for a variety of causes at almost every church, school and local community center, including providing food for the homeless, teaching, caring for the ill and elderly, supporting political causes, coaching young people or animal rescue. Volunteering enables people to directly assist others and significantly promotes a sense of community.
According to a 2015 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 62 million Americans volunteered through or for an organization. Thirty-three percent of people volunteered with religious organizations and 25 percent in educational or youth service organizations.
Helping Serve Hot Meals
Soup kitchens are a traditional hot spot to volunteer, especially during the winter holiday season.
Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit is a religiously affiliated soup kitchen and nonprofit. As a community staple, residents can go there to find a hot meal served by up to 3,000 dedicated volunteers year-round.
“Volunteers really are at the heart of our organization. Without them, we couldn’t do what we do,” said Maxwell Morrison, volunteer coordinator at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.
“We really found that out during the pandemic, those first six or seven months. We didn’t have volunteers and we felt lucky enough to welcome them back around October 2020. It was difficult to do without them, really impossible. They not only help run our community work but also spread the word about the good we do. A lot of our donors volunteer as well, so they don’t only give their time but also give financially.”
Morrison manages between 50 to 60 volunteers a day, sometimes up to 30 people for every shift. Many of them are regular volunteers that help on a recurring basis, while others donate time once a month or year.
The volunteers are given an orientation of their duties and safety protocols before spending time at either of Capuchin’s two main soup kitchen sites. Duties include helping prepare and serve meals, cleaning tables, organizing the service center’s closet and pantry, or harvesting and planting crops at the affiliated Earthworks Urban Farm. The nonprofit also has the Rosa Parks Children & Youth Program for people to help out students with after-school tutoring and art therapy activities.
Morrison said the organization is founded on the principles of community giving and continues to be inspired by the residents that reach out to find a way to lend a hand.
“They want to give back,” said Morrison. “They want to feel that they’re doing something for the community and they want to have a sense of self and a sense of giving back. That’s a big part of why people want to volunteer. We also get folks who are retired and no longer have a paying job so they also want to have that social interaction and feel like they are a part of something again and bond with others.”
In January 2023, Capuchin Soup Kitchen will be re-opening opportunities for people who want to do community service for court-ordered reasons.
Volunteering to Help Local Students
Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), the state’s largest public education system, serves nearly 50,000 students throughout 110 schools. The district promotes volunteerism among parents, caregivers and residents through its Family and Community Engagement division.
“Ideally, we encourage volunteerism throughout all of our schools, especially in direct support of our children,” said Sharlonda Buckman, assistant superintendent for DPSCD Family and Community Engagement Division.
“What that looks like is the official school opportunities, just in terms of support with the day-to-day functioning of schools in a way that helps support the staff administration. From making sure students navigate safely to and from school, establishing a mentoring relationship with students, easing tensions between students as a positive adult role model, and even being there for lunch duty is a big one. We are going to be promoting more opportunities to help since the COVID dollars have gone away, the extra help for staff and students — we are just not going to have access to that.”
An estimated 1,700 volunteers help support DPSCD throughout the district in different roles from staff support, mentoring needs and parent to parent connections.
“Chronic absenteeism is still a problem in our schools and so parents calling parents to do a wellness check and encourage kids to come to school is a big resource to help support our ongoing attendance efforts,” said Buckman. “This is a problem across the country and [it’s been] exacerbated since COVID, but we are making traction to get us back on track.”
Many of the volunteers are parents with a student in a DPSCD school or are community members wanting to get involved.
Buckman said local college sorority and fraternity groups have also organized fundraisers and clothing and toiletry drives for students in need. She said this year, an estimated 2,300 students in the district are homeless.
DPSCD’s Family Resource Center helps provide basic needs like socks, underwear and shirts. Every month, GM Cares has volunteers sign up to support the delivery and, in addition, Feed the Children volunteers help stock and organize shelf stable foods, hygiene products and an assortment of essential items.
“We have about 1,700 volunteers and many of them represent parents who will support kids on field trips,” said Buckman. “But for us, that is a drop in the bucket when you think about the size of the district. Most of these volunteers are intermittent and what we’re really trying to get to is a core of volunteers across every school. We need working groups at every site to get together and work with staff to meet the individual needs with service-oriented roles because our students’ success depends on strong community support. There is no shortage of things that people can really help with.”