Volunteerism speaks to heart of Catholic Charities mission

Fri, Apr 5th 2019 03:00 pm
Online Content Coordinator
Community Outreach assistant Joe Rizzo stands in the food pantry area where those in need can access non-perishable and fresh baked food at the Catholic Charities Hearts and Hands food pantry, 2710 North Forest Road, Getzville. (Dan Cappellazzo/Staff Photographer)
Community Outreach assistant Joe Rizzo stands in the food pantry area where those in need can access non-perishable and fresh baked food at the Catholic Charities Hearts and Hands food pantry, 2710 North Forest Road, Getzville. (Dan Cappellazzo/Staff Photographer)

As Catholic Charities prepares for another Appeal Week, in which the social service organization attempts to raise the bulk of its $11 million fundraising goal, their work throughout the Diocese of Buffalo would not be possible without another kind of donation: time.

With April serving as National Volunteer Month, Catholic Charities counts on its volunteers to help serve the poor and needy throughout the year. Eileen Nowak, director of Parish Outreach and Advocacy for Catholic Charities, oversees eight food pantries in the diocese, as well as a number of programs that use volunteers. She said there are well over 2,000 total volunteers of all ages for Catholic Charities every year, with some people coming in a few times a week to those who show up once or twice a year.

"The work that we do, especially in our department, is helping people through direct services," Nowak said. "In our department we have 15 paid employees, and it's impossible for us to help serve the 10,000s of people we do without the work of our volunteers. We're very fortunate."

The longevity of some Catholic Charities volunteers is also impressive, with the oldest active volunteer just turning 101 years old.

"She doesn't drive herself anymore, but someone picks her up," Nowak said. "As long as someone comes and picks her up, she's happy to help out."

In 2018, 202 volunteers helped out in the eight food pantries of Catholic Charities, logging a total of 21,878 hours and 57,143 bags of food distributed to clients. Eileen Giarraffa came to Catholic Charities through the University at Buffalo Newman Center after a fundraiser, and helps coordinate donations for everything from large furniture to toiletries from the Newman Center to Catholic Charities. She's volunteered for Catholic Charities for about four years now, spending three to four hours every day helping clients.

"What I like about it is being able to reach out to get other people involved, and helping those in need," she said. "That makes me feel good."

Mary Ann Deitzer previously worked at Catholic Charities. After she retired a few years ago, she took some time off, and then returned to the organization as a volunteer. She spends two days a week at the Lovejoy Food Pantry helping clients.

"I love it," she said. "The staff, volunteers and clients are wonderful. We're like one family. It's very heartwarming to know that these people are being serviced."

At the Lovejoy pantry, they do holiday giveaways, neighborhood cookouts and maintain a vegetable garden on site.

"It makes me feel better, it makes me feel younger, and it gives me something to do," said Deitzer, who noted she's inspired other former co-workers to volunteer as well. "I would recommend volunteering to anybody. You don't have to be Catholic to be a volunteer, you just come and it makes you feel so much better to be helping people."

"It's heartwarming to us, because you can tell they are very caring people and want to be helpful to other folks," said Nowak, encouraging others to volunteer. "It's an opportunity for somebody to be helped in their way, but it's also an opportunity for us to have this wonderful group of people come in and help us do what we do."

While some may picture pantry volunteers to be older and retired individuals, Nowak mentions they also work with people needing community service to help settle a court issue, or students looking for an outreach project. On occasion, those people find themselves returning to Catholic Charities out of their own volition in the future as a volunteer, or being hired by the organization itself.

In addition to volunteering their time, people can also donate new or used household items, or sending a check to the Parish Outreach office. Clothes and cleaning supplies are items that cannot be purchased with SNAP funds, "so it's a real need, and we don't always have the funding for that," Nowak said.

The work of Catholic Charities is important throughout the diocese, even in different socio-economic communities. With more and more families living paycheck-to-paycheck, having the support of Catholic Charities helps many families who may have to deal with a sudden large expense or layoff from employment. That Catholic Charities operates a food pantry in Getzville might be surprising, but the need is there.

"It doesn't matter where someone lives, there's always someone who has a need," Nowak said. "You can be a family who's middle-income, living almost paycheck-to-paycheck, and the car breaks down. You don't have the money to fix the car, then the wife gets sick, and suddenly you're down to one income and one car. Kids have to be taken (around) and need clothing and school supplies. All those things add up. A lot of times those people in that situation are not as aware as somebody else who has generationally been coming to pantries, so we try to get the word out to let them know we're happy to have them come. I always tell people the capability of having that happen (to you) could be tomorrow."

If you are interested in volunteering with Catholic Charities, call the Parish Outreach office at 716-218-1400. To donate to Appeal 2019, visit www.ccwny.org  

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