Volunteers enjoy giving back

Trey Harrison, a Varina High School senior, (center) volunteers at the mobile food pantry at Chimborazo Elementary School.
Gloria Nolan sent a text message on a recent Saturday morning canceling an interview appointment. A friend’s wife had died and she wanted to spend time with him instead.

What started as one of Nolan’s volunteer assignments for Hospice of Virginia had grown into a friendship.

Nolan’s primary duties as a hospice volunteer include making regular visits and helping relieve caregivers so that they can run errands or take a needed break. She has volunteered for about four years for the hospice.

“Some patients request that I read Scriptures, or just sit quietly and keep them company,” Nolan said. “Others enjoy having someone listen to them tell life stories or help with needlework. At times, I may simply keep the caregiver company while the patient rests. While not required by [Hospice of Virginia], I enjoy remembering special
days like birthdays and anniversaries.”

Nolan, a western Henrico resident, joins millions of Americans who volunteer each year. She was part of an upward trend in volunteerism among African-Americans last year despite the down economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I volunteer because I am a compassionate person by nature. Because I … have been so well blessed in my life,” she said. “I believe that being Christ’s disciple requires that I give back by serving others.”

Women age 35 to 54 volunteer more than any other group. However, plenty of younger men, women and a few children volunteered this month at the Chimborazo Family Mobile Food Pantry.

Trey Harrison, a Varina High School senior, stood in Richmond’s Chimborazo Elementary School parking lot between a large food pantry truck and a folding table as he packed items into brown paper bags. Harrison said his mother encouraged him to volunteer.

“I figured that it helps people and it gives me community service hours [to include on my college applications]. So it helps me out more,” Harrison said.

On the other side of the truck, Angelina Patrick, an eastern Henrico resident and Virginia Commonwealth University student, added bunches of bananas to bags. She then moved the bags to a nearby table for families to pick up later.

Patrick said she got involved with the food project through HandsOn Greater Richmond, a local group that connects people with organizations who need volunteers. Patrick said a school friend told her about the group and how easy it was to go online to sign up to volunteer.

The mobile pantry is organized by Richmond’s Communities in Schools (CIS) with funding from Feed More Impact 100. The pantry has provided food to hundreds of children and their families since starting in September 2011.

The pantry is held the same night as the school’s PTA meeting. While parents and teachers are meeting, volunteers sort and pack produce, dry goods, and sometimes fresh meat, according to Caitlin Roberts, CIS site coordinator. After the PTA meeting, families pick up their groceries and head home.

The pantry and dozens of other community groups rely on HandsOn to help link them with needed volunteers. Opportunities are listed on the HandsOn website with new ones added as the need arises.

Others like Nolan find their own volunteer opportunities. However the connection is made, Nolan said volunteering is all about focusing on other people and their needs.

“The volunteer experience is always about the other person not one’s self. Putting self aside and cheerfully serving others is the only way to have a rewarding volunteer experience,” she said.

This story is part of the series Virginia Tapestry: Reflecting Our Rich Diversity. It was produced by In Your Shoes Media.
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September 2017
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Each month, the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Richmond Chapter conducts support group meetings to provide the community with an opportunity to meet for mutual support and to exchange coping skills. A LGBTQ Dementia Caregiver Support group will meet at 6 p.m. at Jewish Family Services, 6718 Patterson Ave. For details, call 967-2580. Full text

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