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Volunteering in Brooklyn and Queens: Because the Need Is Always Great

Catholic Charity: Volunteers Needed, Because the Need Is Always Great


February 9, 2024
By Carol Zimmermann, The Tablet


WASHINGTON — Volunteers are the backbone for many social service agencies as they distribute food, clothes, and necessities to those in need.

This is certainly true at Catholic Charities Brooklyn & Queens which has a strong cadre of regular volunteers, but amid the growing needs in the community, the agency’s directors said they could always use more help.

For the most part, their volunteers are older, often even in their 80s or 90s, according to Jennifer Smith, food resource manager, and Debbie Hampson, senior director of community outreach services at CCBQ.

The time factor is the biggest issue in getting volunteers. Hampson said they had their largest volunteer network during COVID-19 when people were either not working or not working normal hours which coincidentally was also a time with rising needs in the community.

Richard Slizeski, senior vice president for mission, said the agency is looking into ways people can help during non-work hours such as evenings or weekends.

The Tablet reached out to CCBQ to see if their experience was similar to a nationwide trend of decreasing volunteer pools. A report released by the Census Bureau and AmeriCorps in January said the number of volunteers in the United States dropped about 7 percentage points from September 2020 to September 2021 even as needs increased.

The Catholic Charities agency leaders certainly noticed a drop in outside help after the pandemic. In the height of COVID-19, when needs were definitely up, volunteers came out in force. Hampson said they had union shops help them with projects or just larger groups on hand because they were available.

They were put to work too, packing food, moving it to different locations, and distributing it.

We still work with these groups, she said, especially during holiday events such as distributing Thanksgiving turkeys, “but they’re not there every week with us.”

Although those larger numbers dropped when normal schedules resumed, the agency then and now still relies on its cadre of retirees who either regularly help or frequently stop by and pitch in if they see a need.

Smith similarly saw the rise in volunteers at food pantries during the pandemic, just as needs increased 1,000 times or more, as she put it. “It was an amazing time for volunteerism,” she added.

The agency’s food pantries rely on parish-based volunteers and has more than 200 of them regularly helping but as the numbers of pantry clients is not decreasing, Smith said they continue to need more volunteers to match the need.

Slizeski said that one group of volunteers in recent years has come from the very people Catholic Charities has been helping: migrants.

When a surge of migrants first arrived at Catholic Charities offices in the summer of 2022, dropped off by the busloads with the promise that the agency would provide food, shelter, clothes, and jobs, he said the agency’s employees had to tell them realistically how they could help and have tried to do as much as possible.

“We are getting people to help us, but our numbers are tremendous,” he said, noting that 300-400 migrants a week come to them for basic needs. Right now, he said they can use people to stock pantry shelves, pick up donated clothes and sort them.

Many of the migrants who have received help have come back to the Catholic Charities centers and pitched in with cooking, cleaning up, and crowd control.

“They’ve been helped, and they want to help others,” he said.

He also said many people in the community have wanted to help and have donated bags of clothes but for each bag donated someone has to go through it and determine what can be given out or not.

As he put it: “It takes a mini army to do some of these things.”

There is also the issue, he said, of people saying Catholic Charities shouldn’t be helping the migrants because then it’s only encouraging them to stay.

Slizeski said he is not “going to take a political position” on this topic but simply noted that “when there’s a mom with a little 3-year-old and they’re hungry and they don’t have appropriate clothing, I don’t have a choice in my mind. It’s a way we need to respond.”

He also said the work they do “aims to help the most vulnerable and address human dignity,” adding that that always “factors into how we provide our services.

”For more information about volunteering in Brooklyn and Queens at CCBQ visit: ccbq.org/volunteer to fill out an application or email: info@ccbq.org to make an inquiry.

Read the original story in The Tablet: Catholic Charity: Volunteers Needed, Because the Need Is Always Great