My name is Hector, and I am the Volunteer Coordinator at Caritas of Austin. Our mission is to prevent and end homelessness in the Austin area. When COVID-19 hit, we realized that we would need to change the way volunteers served with our organization. So I got together with our development department, and we brainstormed some ways for volunteers to continue to help during the crisis.
When the shelter in place order was issued, we knew we would need to find tasks that could be implemented at home. We came up with several opportunities that allow volunteers to stay engaged and safe but still help with Caritas of Austin programs.
Some of the ways volunteers have been helping is by assembling kits at home that are then given out to walk-in clients. There are three types of kits that we offer: hygiene care kits, which contain basic hygiene supplies like shampoo and soap, COVID-19 kits, which contain masks, water bottles, and other safety items, and snack care kits, which contain food items like granola bars and dried fruit.
We have also had volunteers coming up with creative recipes that can be made utilizing items offered by our food pantry. It’s amazing what people have found you can do with Ramen noodles! Some of our volunteers have been sewing face masks to hand out as well, and we even provide instructions for making those on our website.
There is also a team of volunteers that calls and checks on clients and assists case managers with basic needs. For example, a direct service volunteer might help a client fill out food assistance applications and other paperwork.
We do have a skeletal crew working on-site and can use a few volunteers there as long as we keep the total number of people under four. At our kitchen we need people to help make and distribute sack lunches. In a normal week we would cook and serve 250 meals a day, and we are still feeding a high volume of people with our sack lunches.
We practice social distancing and make sure that people stay at least six feet apart, even while standing in line to receive their food. Everyone who serves in the kitchen is required to wear masks and gloves. We have sanitary stations at all the doors so that people can wash their hands, and we provide sanitizer for the recipients of the sack lunches.
Something that I have learned is that it’s so important to build a relationship with volunteers and bring them into the whole process. They are a valuable part of the team and integral to what we do. During this crisis, we’ve tried to keep them in the loop…calling to check up on them, giving them updates on clients, letting them know when a client gets housed so they can celebrate with us, and just including them as part of our Caritas family!
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