Seeking to instill a sense of volunteerism in the local community, Jewish Volunteer Connection has kicked off their Season of Service program.
Running from Sept. 13 to Oct. 15, Season of Service is “one of JVC’s large, community-wide events where we encourage lots of people to get involved in volunteering,” said Ashley Pressman, executive director of JVC. “This year, we’re using it as an opportunity for people to learn together, to volunteer together, mostly virtually, and to take on responsibilities for helping to take care of the most urgent needs in the community.”
Those urgent needs include things like food, masks and socialization, Pressman said. To provide these and other necessities to those in need, community members can participate in a number of different programs. These include indirect service projects that involve making soup kits, learning opportunities, a project to make tie-dye face masks, community cleanups and virtual volunteering opportunities.
For the soup kit project, designed to provide for the food insecure, volunteers purchase the materials they will need to make 10 soup kits, each of which makes a “healthy, hearty meal for four people,” Pressman explained. Upon receiving the kit, which includes ingredients such as barley and lentils, all the recipient must do is add water and boil it for about an hour. The kits also normally come with personalized cards from the volunteers with supportive messages.
Pressman also spoke of a program in which volunteers can visit a transitional housing shelter for people experiencing homelessness, to provide them with a meal and then stick around to interact and watch a football game with them. “You’ve got a population of people who have been both incredibly vulnerable and incredibly isolated in the last several months,” Pressman said. “And for volunteers to be able to go and provide and serve a meal, and just have however brief a social interaction with somebody, is tremendously gratifying and also tremendously humanizing.”
Pressman added that such a small thing “helps people to kind of feel like they’ve got a community around them, they are part of a larger community, and they are not so isolated and they are not so alone.”
With all the difficulties that 2020 has seen thus far, Pressman views volunteering as “absolutely critical at this time,” she said. “All of the needs that volunteers were serving before the pandemic continue to exist during the pandemic, and in many cases have been exacerbated.
“There is so much more hunger in our community right now,” Pressman continued. “There’s so much more poverty. There’s so much more isolation for people who maybe they used to be able to get out to the grocery store, and now they can’t.”
Despite this, Pressman felt inspired by the knowledge that more people had expressed an interest in volunteering in the last three months of their previous fiscal year than had done so in the first nine months, even though those first nine months were already on “a record breaking pace. … It’s just incredibly inspiring to see how people who felt comfortable going out were willing to do that and were willing to meet those really critical needs that just had to be done in person.”
Pressman encouraged those who wish to volunteer to visit jvcbaltimore.org/seasonofservice.