Volunteering through the seasons

Lexi Belyue ‘21, Web editor

As Thanksgiving rolls around the corner, giving back to the community is a way to spread the holiday spirit.

With new safety precautions due to COVID-19, it has become increasingly more difficult to meet and give back, however, the need to do so is increasing. Throughout the metro Detroit area, food distribution centers like Gleaners Community Food Bank have planned to continue administering food.

“(We will be) mandating all employees, volunteers and partners follow thorough protocols and procedures,” Gleaners Special Events Volunteer Coordinator Julie Ptasznik said.

My Father’s Business Outreach Ministries director Chris Gaitley, who runs an organization similar to Gleaners, said he is distributing food items by preselecting items that go together and hosting a drive-thru pick up.

“We have set up cones to form a lane, so cars can pop their trunks and volunteers can set the food in the vehicle,” Gaitley said. “Volunteers at The Helm (a local senior activity center) will also continue to deliver food via Meals on Wheels.”

Even though COVID-19 caused a lull in the workplace, it created a growth in the amount of people who are desperate for food, according to Ptasznik. She said Gleaners alone has seen a 30 percent increase of people in need and are expecting that percentage to rise this winter.

“During the pandemic, Gleaners serves an average of 150,000 households each month through our drive-up food distributions and emergency box distribution,” Ptasznik said. “Likewise, during the pandemic, My Father’s Business serves over 400 individual households over the course of two weeks, seeing about 60 to 80 cars a day.”

“In spite of the fact that volunteering is limited, there are still plenty of ways to help out, Ptasznik said. She suggests making a donation online to support without risking exposure to COVID-19.

“People can also support our Virtual Food Drives,” Ptasnik said. Gaitley suggests organizing “curbside drop offs” at your home.

Gaitley mentioned that donating online also allows for financial flexibility for the organization. Financial support is not the only way to contribute to local organizations.

“Writing cards and emails to organizations encourages and empowers them,” Gaitley said.

Becoming involved with the community is important, but it is just as important to stay safe from a distance, according to Interact Service Club advisor Ryan Wheaton.

“I just don’t feel safe sending kids out to volunteer like normal,” Wheaton said. “I couldn’t fathom (volunteering for a large) event and then having a student come down with COVID on me.”

Ptasznik said that Thanksgiving can be a struggle for those who are food-insecure, but organizations like Gleaners try to alleviate some of that stress.

“For those who struggle to find their next meal, hunger is their biggest worry,” Ptasznik said. “With the help of our partners, donors and volunteers, we can make sure no one goes hungry during Thanksgiving.”

Gaitley said his organization will maintain strict COVID-19 protocols, while expanding distributions and offering support to their partner agencies, including local school districts.

“My Father’s Business plans to maintain frequent hand-washing, clean surfaces, and social-distanced delivery to keep everything going smoothly,” Gaitley said.

Gaitley stressed that if students feel comfortable, more volunteers are always needed, especially around the holidays.

“(Student) volunteers help send a message to people in need that young people are willing to invest time into them, and they are of value and importance,” Gaitley said.

Graphic by Grace Wininger ‘23