Local Ministries

Volunteer stays as others leave due to pandemic

Ed Herman, a volunteer at Hope Distribution Center in Kansas City, Kansas, helps stock shelves at the center. Despite being at risk because of his age, Herman has continued as a volunteer while many others have left during the COVID-19 pandemic. LEAVEN PHOTO BY DOUG HESSE

by Todd Habiger

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ed Herman has seen the tears well up in people’s eyes and heard their heartfelt thank you as he hands groceries to those in need.

That’s why, when the majority of Catholic Charities’ volunteers have left because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Herman has chosen to stay on as a volunteer at Hope Distribution Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

“You feel like you’re doing something tangible and you can see the results immediately,” said Herman, a parishioner at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.

“When you write a check,” he continued, “you know it’s going to go to purchase food and be distributed somewhere, someplace, to someone.

“Here, you’re engaged and interacting with people that have a need, and you can see the magnitude of those donations and how much of an impact that has on the recipients.”

Ed Herman unpacks a box of bread to store the loaves in a freezer at Hope Distribution Center. LEAVEN PHOTO BY DOUG HESSE

The situation at Catholic Charities is dire. The organization’s volunteers are down more than 80% from where they were a year ago (see below).

Even though Herman, at age 75, is at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than the general population, he feels the risk is worth it. It helps that he developed some good habits from his years traveling though undeveloped countries during his time as a banker.

“I got used to being around difficult conditions,” he said. “I know the things that cause you to be the most vulnerable. I maintain social distance. When I traveled, I would carry around a bag of wipes with me and every time I touched something, I would wash my hands.”

When COVID-19 struck and a lot of the volunteers left, Herman decided to stick it out.

Although Ed is in the higher risk group for COVID-19, he continues to volunteer at Catholic Charities. LEAVEN PHOTO BY DOUG HESSE

“I saw a job that needed to be done, and a lot of people were backing off,” he said. “I felt like if I exercised good common sense, I would be OK.”

Herman has been volunteering at Hope Distribution Center and other food pantries for more than five years. When the “shelter at home” order went into effect, he immediately saw the increase in need.

“There has definitely been a spike in the demand as far as the people showing up for services,” he said. “It’s impacted a lot of people in a lot of different ways. There’s been an increase in unemployment and underemployment.”

To him, that’s all the more reason to keep volunteering.

Herman said he’s seen homeless people walking in for food, pulling up on bicycles and even arriving by car — a car they are obviously living in.

“You can tell this is something that they actually need,” he said. “A lot of them will comment that this is a lifesaver and they were out of resources and had no place to go. It’s apparent that the need is great.”

Catholic Charities has seen a massive decrease in volunteers due to COVID-19, but many people are still in need of its services. LEAVEN PHOTO BY DOUG HESSE

While he has in the past, and still continues to write checks to charitable causes, Herman urges people to get out and volunteer and see how that money is being used.

“Do you see Jesus in them, and do they see Jesus in you?” he asked.

Experiencing firsthand the Holy Spirit working through you, said Herman, “changes your viewpoint on what the purpose of life is and what you’re doing to help facilitate that.”

Catholic Charities is in urgent need of volunteers

Catholic Charities relies on volunteers to aid in its mission of helping those in need. Lately, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of volunteers has decreased drastically.

In April 2019, Catholic Charities had 2,200 volunteers contribute a total 26,000 hours. A year later, those numbers were down to 390, volunteering a total of 4,000 hours.

The situation has gotten to the point that it’s affected the services.

“Volunteers are a significant part of our workforce,” said Denise Ogilvie, vice president of community engagement for Catholic Charities. “We have around 140 full-time employees and over 1,600 ongoing volunteers every month.

“We are unable to operate at full capacity without volunteers. We have reduced hours in our food pantries and family support centers.  At TurnStyles, we have limited ability to accept donations and are not accepting furniture.”

Volunteers like Ed make it possible for Catholic Charities services to continue operating. LEAVEN PHOTO BY DOUG HESSE

Ogilvie said there are volunteer opportunities for people of all age groups and a wide range of jobs that need to be done.

“We have openings for people to answer the phone, pack groceries, drive trucks, sort food, [be] cashiers at TurnStyles or sorting donations,” she said.

For those who might fear for their health, she said that extra precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of its workforce.

“All staff and volunteers are asked to wear masks and gloves while serving,” she said.  “All surfaces are being sanitized throughout the day, we are deep sanitizing every location and putting six-foot distancing practices into place. We do have some opportunities that have little contact with others.”

Ogilvie said that once the “shelter at home” order ended, Catholic Charities needed to expand its services in various areas. Without the volunteers to help, staff members have been asked to take on additional duties to help fill the holes. There simply aren’t enough people to fill the holes left by the lack of volunteers.

“We will not be able to run any program at full capacity until we have additional volunteers,” she said.

How to volunteer

Contact: Cari Olberding, volunteer engagement coordinator, by calling, (913) 433-2104; sending an email to: colberding@catholiccharitiesks.org or going online to: catholiccharitiesks.org/volunteer.

About the author

Todd Habiger

Todd has been the production manager for The Leaven since 1995. Under his direction The Leaven has won multiple design awards from the Catholic Press Association. Prior to working at The Leaven, Todd was an award-winning writer for The Catholic Key newspaper in Kansas City, Mo. Todd is married to Lori Wood Habiger, a former Leaven employee herself. They have two children — Paige and Connor, and one dog — Joli.

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