A Salute to Volunteers
April is National Volunteer Month, and within that is National Volunteer Week (this year it’s April 23-29). According to Points of Light, which organizes National Volunteer Week, the week is “an opportunity to recognize and thank volunteers who lend their time, talent, voice, and support to causes they care about in their community.”
For the second consecutive year, Town&Gown spent time at a few nonprofits where much of the work is done by volunteers, who give of their time to help causes, groups, events, and more without asking anything in return.
Food Delivery • by Vilma Shu Danz
When I was asked again this year to volunteer in our community and write about my experience, I knew I wanted to highlight a nonprofit that had a focus on food in some respect. Last year, I shared my experience cooking at the Community Café at Saint Andrews Episcopal Church, and the café continues to serve hot dinners to more than 150 people every Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m.
On a cold Wednesday morning at 8:15 a.m., I walked down to the basement of the Grace Lutheran Church in State College to meet with State College Area Meals on Wheels executive director Christine Tyler and volunteer coordinator Sarah Sanderson. Even at that early hour, the kitchen was bustling with activity, led by cook Jim Johnston. Volunteers in the kitchen were making roasted pork, mashed potatoes, and a squash medley. Another set of volunteers were already busy making turkey sandwiches and portioning out the mixed salad and fruit cocktail.
The dedicated staff of four and an army of 200 community-minded volunteers prepare, package, and deliver 300 meals five days a week between 10:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Since its inception in 1971, State College Area Meals on Wheels has delivered more than 1.4 million meals. In 2016, more than 57,000 meals were delivered by volunteers to clients, who must live in the State College Area School District.
“Every client receives one cold meal and one hot meal. Each nutritious meal is carefully planned by a registered, licensed dietitian,” says Sanderson. “This service helps maintain good nutrition for the clients, allowing them to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.”
Tyler explains, “Our clients are those who are unable to prepare meals in their homes due to physical or mental-health issues. They are of all ages and backgrounds. Our oldest client is 98 years old and the youngest, just 14 years old. Persons of any age may apply. They are all God’s children and they need to be fed! That is our mission!”
Volunteers are the lifeblood of State College Area Meals on Wheels. Everyone I spoke with expressed how meaningful and satisfying the experience has been to give back to this local community. The volunteers really care about the clients that they are serving. Special care and attention is made to accommodate each client’s medical and dietary restrictions as well as food allergies. Each meal is vacuum-sealed and individually labeled with the client’s name.
Meals coordinator Kerri Hosterman used to work in banking, but decided that she wanted a change of pace and now helps plan the 300 meals that go out to clients every day.
Noah Coleman, son of the late acclaimed local photographer Bill Coleman, works in HR consulting in State College, and dedicates his time once a week with Meals on Wheels.
Town&Gown founder Mimi Barash Coppersmith has always admired the services that the organization provides and felt inspired after the 2016 annual fund-raiser dinner to join in on the effort as a volunteer.
What surprised me most was that no government tax dollars are used to fund this nonprofit, home-delivered meal program. The majority of the funds come from private donations and from an annual benefit dinner, A Meal that Matters. This year’s Meals on Wheels benefit dinner be held at the Nittany Lion Inn Ballroom on May 11 and will feature Penn State director of athletics Sandy Barbour as the guest speaker. The evening includes a three-course dinner, door prizes, and extensive silent and live auctions. Tickets are $125 each ($65 tax deductible). Call (814) 360-6571 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on receiving meals or to become a volunteer, visit scmow.org or call (814) 237-8135.
The Ruth Herman Dreibelbis Memorial Fund was set up to honor the memory of long-time volunteer Ruth Herman Dreibelbis as well as to support the long-term sustainment of State College Area Meals on Wheels. To donate, a check can be sent payable to Meals on Wheels at PO Box 1367, State College, PA 16804, with a note on the memo line mentioning the Ruth Dreibelbis Memorial Fund.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name • by Nicole Summers
Any weekday morning, entering either the FaithCentre Food Bank or the FaithCentre store and offices is a bit like walking into the “Cheers” pub. Aside from the minor differences that the FaithCentre doesn’t serve beer and is a nonprofit social service agency and not a bar, both share an air of camaraderie and fellowship.
When you walk into the FaithCentre as a volunteer, it is true that everybody knows your name. Everyone also knows your dog’s name, your birthday, your children’s vocations, what you recently posted on Facebook, and how you like your coffee. Everyone knows that Sally prefers dark to milk chocolate. Everyone knows that Cheryl is on the Special Olympics bowling ream. And, everyone knows that Terry trained in primitive survival skills with Creek Stewart.
It’s not that the staff and volunteers are intrusive. It is simply that information about daily life is shared, sorrows and struggles are expressed, and milestones and triumphs (however small) are celebrated.
Mornings in the store begin with a prayer circle that staff and volunteers are welcome — but certainly not required — to join. Regardless of anyone’s personal beliefs about the power of prayer, starting the day with an opportunity to voice individual concerns and participate in a moment of reflection or thankfulness can set a positive tone and focus for the day’s activities.
The quiet, however, is short-lived, and by 10:15 a.m. the place starts to hum with activity. Joe delivers bread and pastries from the Weis store to the food bank. Brenda brews coffee in our kitchen and expertly entices visitors to sit and enjoy a free hot drink and a snack. Aaron, David, and Skip unload a delivery of 435 cases of canned goods in the back of the food bank. Gary hauls our cardboard across the street to the recycling bin. Donna and Julie work on organizing the boutique, and Kay M. puts on a CD of birds chirping and waves crashing that seems strangely at odds with a décor characterized by an overflowing blue donation bin and piles of bagged dogged and cat food stored next to the check-out counter. But, she says, “The CD keeps me calm!”
All of the staff, volunteers, shoppers, and clients swarm about — each occupied with their individual tasks. Sometimes maneuvering through this sea of people and shopping carts is challenging. Care has to be taken not to bump into a child running toward the toy section or trip over Nykky, the service dog, napping in a corner near the collectibles. Yet, like a beehive, every volunteer is engaged in an act that advances the FaithCentre’s mission and services.
The FaithCentre is unique in this region because we do a little bit (and sometimes, a lot) of everything. We run the food bank for the area surrounding Bellefonte; we host the Pet Food Pantry for the entire county; through our partnership with Nutrition Links, we offer nutrition education classes; we have a free coffee corner where some “regulars” hang out, drink free hot beverages, eat pastries, and discuss life events; and we assist local residents facing utility termination or eviction. On Thursdays, “Honey” cooks lunch for anyone visiting or working at the FaithCentre and makes the entire store smell like an Italian restaurant. Two-thirds of our funding comes from sales at our thrift store and Upcycle Boutique. The remainder is raised through events, grants, and donations. Our food bank alone feeds nearly 800 people a month, and, if you tally the total number of those who use any one of our programs, we help approximately 1,100 people each year.
Assisting that number of individuals with such an assortment of services requires a small army of volunteers, and each task chosen is important. Cheryl, our champion bowler, says she likes volunteering at the FaithCentre “because I can do something I enjoy.” She likes and is great at sweeping floors — not a job many people happily embrace, but something that is essential in keeping the store somewhat tidy. Becky enjoys appraising jewelry for our boutique, and Kay S. is adept at filling out the detailed paperwork required for reporting food bank client numbers and demographics.
In many ways, the FaithCentre is a microcosm of the greater community. We have wealthy shoppers crossing paths with individuals visiting for free pet food or registering for the food bank services. Clients, their case workers, and, sometimes, the homeless, all travel through the same buildings where attorneys, teachers, pastors, and bankers drop off donated funds, items, or food. This intersection gives the FaithCentre a feeling the president of the board, Stephanie, describes as “quirky.” Yet, underlying all the messiness that accompanies life and activity is a resolve that, at the FaithCentre, everyone’s work, commitment, and talents are valued and praise and acknowledgement are liberally offered. It is this insistence on grace and kindness that led one of our volunteers to describe being at the FaithCentre as “therapeutic.”
Her Easter card to us read, “Thank you so much for welcoming [me] to be a part of your wonderful organization! The FaithCentre provides such a warm and inviting environment. Since starting there in November, I have come to grow so much personally. I began to become more outgoing instead of isolating. I have begun to trust again — not only in others but also in myself. I appreciate all you have done for me and feel blessed to have you all in my life.”
Certainly, as we become increasingly bombarded by the surreal and sometimes unforgiving world of social media, going to a real brick and mortar place where everyone knows your name is hugely comforting. And, to everyone who volunteers at the FaithCentre, “Welcome! We are very, very glad you came!”
For information about the FaithCentre, visit faithcentre.info.
Finding a home in your heart for those in need • by David Pencek
It wasn’t that long ago when Ashton Munoz was a manager of a local restaurant. This morning in early March, he hops into a van with Mike, a client of Hearts for Homeless, to take him to Mount Nittany Medical Center for some blood work. It’s just one of the many tasks Munoz has as assistant director for the organization that helps homeless people in the region. But don’t let his title fool you — he isn’t paid for his efforts.
Besides taking clients to medical appointments, Munoz spends his time helping to run things inside the small shelter that’s on 100 South Fraser Street in State College (below the Dunkin’ Donuts on College Avenue), visiting clients who live in one of the organization’s transitional apartments, picking up food that local businesses donate, and doing outreach efforts such as planning events or updating Hearts for Homeless’ Web site.
“We don’t like people to slip through the cracks,” he says as he sits in the waiting area at Mount Nittany while Mike has his blood work done.
He recalls a freezing cold winter night in 2015 when he found a client laying on a street. “I had to literally peel him off the street and get him inside and get him to change his clothes. … I think about what if I didn’t find him. He would have slipped through the cracks.”
Munoz, 28, says his sense of serving and volunteering comes from his mother. While growing up in California, Munoz spent time time volunteering with his mom for an organization called Sharing Nature with Children. It was a few months after he moved from Los Angeles to State College in 2014 that he started to help out with Hearts for Homeless and its founder and director Ginny Poorman.
Homelessness isn’t an issue that’s usually associated with State College and the Centre Region, but Poorman says the organization has helped around 450 people, including many Penn State students, over the past three years. The good news is that about 80 percent of those clients are now no longer homeless.
The organization has about 14 frequent volunteers. Two clients also volunteer their time to help out inside the shelter.
The goal for both Poorman and Munoz is to raise enough funds for more space. Munoz says he’d like to see a sister shelter open up somewhere else within the county.
When thinking about some of the success stories he’s seen, he goes back to the client he found on the street that winter night. The man has mental-health issues and now lives in one of the transitional apartments. When he had first started living there, he couldn’t communicate. If food was put in front of him, he wouldn’t start eating until someone said that it was OK to to eat.
“I remember the state he was in when we got him. Now he’s able to say things,” Munoz says. “He still struggles with his words, but he’ll say how he just really trusts me and Ginny, and it comes out cognitive and beautiful.
“It makes everything you do worthwhile.”
For more information on Hearts for Homeless, visit h4hstatecollege.org.