Celebrating National Volunteer Month: Two Years Later
At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Amanda Reynolds, Senior Community Engagement Coordinator for The Food Bank, was preparing for the worst. Volunteer shifts in all areas of the organization were cancelled and access to the warehouse facility was limited to essential workers. The sorting room, ordinarily run by volunteer support, was now filled with staff from various departments with snippets of time to help organize donated food and ensure its quality.
However, by April, it was clear that this stop-gap measure wouldn’t be enough. With food insecurity increasing due to rising unemployment, the time had come to invite volunteers back to ensure that sufficient food could be distributed to The Food Bank’s partner meals sites and food pantries as well as The Mobile Food Bank and Brown Bag: Food for Elders programs.
“I thought there was no way I was going to find volunteers when everything is saying don’t go out in public,” said Reynolds, reflecting on her mindset then.
She was quickly proven wrong however, as a robust network of new and returning volunteers stepped up to fill the need. The positive response was so overwhelming that The Food Bank ran out of available spots in the sorting room, allowing other volunteers to begin delivering healthy food directly to remote food sites in the Berkshires. Reynolds was deeply moved by the show of support at such an unstable time for both The Food Bank and the world at large.
“I think people were listening to the news and feeling so helpless, feeling like they had no purpose, and wanted to offer support,” explained Reynolds.
The hard work of Food Bank volunteers has been especially critical these last few years as high levels of economic insecurity and inflation continue to sweep through every community in our service area.
These days, volunteering at The Food Bank looks very different than it did pre-pandemic. The number of people allowed to work together in the sorting room has been drastically reduced, going from twenty-five volunteers per shift to seven. Space and safety are a top priority, and casual conversation has slowed as people focus on sorting and packing as much healthy food as possible. The dedication and hard work these volunteers, many of whom became regulars throughout the last two years, enabled The Food Bank to raise distribution from pre-pandemic levels despite the significant reduction in people power.
Staff at The Food Bank have high hopes for the future of the volunteer program. Volunteer opportunities at The Food Bank’s new community engagement farm in Hadley start on April 12, bringing back Family Farm Days and the opportunity to host large groups. Once construction of The Food Bank’s new food distribution facility in Chicopee is complete, the volunteer program will expand even further, giving the volunteers a work and break space separate from the main warehouse.
Reynolds is most excited to be back with volunteers on a more regular basis, meeting each one herself as was the practice before COVID. For her, and many others employed at The Food Bank, volunteers are central to why she loves the work she does.
“It was easy for all of us I think, to fall into a tough place these last few years,” said Reynolds, “What the volunteers showed us on a daily basis was that we’re going to get through this. We’re going to feed people.”