Every day of the year, you can walk into Shepherd’s Table and find volunteers serving hot, nutritious meals to their neighbors experiencing food insecurity. Whenever our doors are open, volunteers are on the scene serving food, preparing plates in the kitchen, handing out toiletries in the Resource Center, and chatting with our guests. This week, we’re pleased to observe National Volunteer Week and offer a heartfelt “thank you” to every individual faithfully serving our organization.
Since our doors opened in 1983, volunteers have played a crucial role in making this work possible. They work with our chefs to help prepare meals, then serve the food and stay to clean up when mealtime is over. In addition to our daily meals, volunteers fuel Beyond the Table, where we take pre-packaged meals out to other locations within Montgomery County. In the Resource Center, volunteers support staff by sorting and distributing resources to clients, from personal mail to toiletries.
In each role, volunteers are marked by the dignity and respect they offer every person they encounter.
Marcy Merti, our Volunteer Coordinator, reflects on the vibrant energy volunteers bring with them into this work. “Their energy helps us get through what we have to do day in and day out,” she shares. Because of her role, Marcy is well acquainted with each volunteer who walks through our doors and into the kitchen. There are currently over 1,500 active volunteers, and that’s during a pandemic. High school and college students, retired adults, couples, faith groups, and coworkers all comprise the massive pool of people. Reflecting on the impact each individual has, Marcy shares, “On a personal level, they totally make my day. I love my job because I get to work with such dedicated, enjoyable people. They add a lot of freshness to what we do.”
Marcy understands exactly where the joy is coming from. Before her time on staff with Shepherd’s Table, she served as a volunteer herself. “When you volunteer here, you really see that you’re making a contribution,” she remembers. “You’re not showing up for a ‘just in case’ situation—we put our volunteers to work.” Indeed—at Shepherd’s Table, we think of our volunteers as the heart of the organization. In our meal program alone, we require 8 volunteers for every shift, which happen twice daily in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. This human capital directly correlates to the number of meals we’re able to serve to the community. Without our volunteers, people would go hungry.
When the pandemic first arrived in Maryland and prompted lockdowns in March 2020, Shepherd’s Table was worried we’d break our record of never missing a meal. Thanks to our resilient volunteers, that fear was never realized. With carefully calculated precautions in place, volunteers continue to show up masked, distanced, and gloved. In an effort to adapt to the unique challenges brought on by the health crisis, we began additionally serving packed lunches with brunch, our first meal of the day. Volunteers have played a key role in packaging up this resource. Volunteers who haven’t been able to show up in person have found other ways to continue their support. Many of the sandwiches and baked goods that fill the grab-bags are prepared and donated by volunteers cooking up food for us from their own homes and kitchens.
Although each volunteer is unique, they’re united by shared drive to further the mission. Some volunteers come together in groups, but others started their journey alone and have found community through a regular routine here. Organic groups have formed over regular shifts, and can be caught asking, “Will you be back Wednesday for brunch?” as they slip off their aprons at the end of a shift. As a group of people who have all prioritized serving their neighbors, it’s easy to bond with one another as they slice toast or scoop mac & cheese.
At Shepherd’s Table, we’re proud of a volunteer force that not only makes this work possible, but makes it delightful. To our volunteers: thank you for all you do.