Helping a client recruit volunteers

 In Blog

I continue to help United Way of Hampshire County raise awareness about the work it does in funding 34 programs that deliver 21,687 acts of service per year to people in need in Hampshire County in Massachusetts. Over 250 volunteers give over 5,000 hours of their time. Recently, I wrote the following blog for United Way to help it recruit volunteers to staff a shelter in Northampton, Massachusetts. 

United Way of Hampshire County is eagerly seeking volunteers to assist with various tasks related to running a newly opened shelter for the homeless in downtown Northampton. Leaders ask that you bring your heart and hands—and if you are inspired, also your creativity.

This, because you may be doing everything from setting up cots to serving coffee and imagining activities that shelter guests can take part in.

Last year, United Way helped the city of Northampton to find dozens of people to help set up and also operate a shelter at Northampton High School, which was closed at the time. This year, the shelter is at First Churches of Northampton

Operated by ServiceNet and supported by the city of Northampton, this year’s location opened on Dec. 4, 2020. The need for volunteers is great again this year. As Loren Davine, of Easthampton, volunteer coordinator, explains it, the pandemic is pulling longtime volunteers in many directions, and many older adults who normally volunteer cannot do so because they are at-risk.

Last year, United Way recruited 86 volunteers, two of whom worked every shift, for six to eight hours, for two months in the winter.

Loren said that early on last year, volunteers helped organize and distribute supplies that were donated. They put up signage relative to COVID-19 protocols and distributed meals that were donated by the Hampshire County House of Corrections, Smith College, and some local businesses. 

One volunteer wanted to do more than serve coffee in the hallway. And this is where creativity comes in, as The Kind Cafe was born. She created a designated coffeehouse in the cafeteria and served up hot cocoa, mochas, and pastries to guests.

“After a few weeks, our volunteers started connecting with the guests,” Loren says, noting the shelter was at capacity last year with 55 guests on any given day. “What started as a coffee cart became a whole café downstairs. It felt like you were in a coffee shop.”

“The volunteers offered something special, instead of basic survival. They were really able to humanize the experience and connect with people and address the need.”

Over the winter, the compassion—and the inventiveness—grew. As guests began to feel cooped up, volunteers responded by creating activities and events—such as a poetry slam, movie nights, and special, hot Sunday breakfasts.

“They made pancakes, waffles, eggs,” Loren says. “One volunteer offered a craft night. She brought in supplies and facilitated a project. Many of them didn’t just work their shift. They got involved.” 

United Way is proud that its efforts produced such innovation and compassion. In addition to finding volunteers, the assist in the spring and earlier this winter included sourcing donated clothing, water stations, water bottles, face masks, and chairs. The agency has also worked with the town of Amherst and Craig’s Doors to identify and secure University Motor Lodge as additional housing for those experiencing homelessness. 

The work of United Way is always important. It is often pressing. And it is so rewarding. Get involved—for your own sake!

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