Our volunteers are the epitome of “neighbor helping neighbor” – they make it all possible. As we celebrate 50 years of service to our community, we want to highlight some fun memories and the unsung heroes among us.
Meet Jacquie – A 7 year veteran of fundraising and social media!
“I started volunteering with Gaithersburg HELP because I wanted to make a difference in the community where I live. The great disparity of resources among my neighbors was undeniable and I was eager to take action.
After a little bit of research, I soon discovered that there was an amazing group, already in existence for many years, which had been addressing this issue and meeting the needs of those who are struggling financially. They were called Gaithersburg HELP. After a brief orientation meeting, the Fundraising Committee welcomed me into the fold and I was able to assist with planning the ribbon cutting ceremony for our new pantry! It was an exciting time – the start of a new chapter for the organization and what became a wonderful new opportunity for me, eventually taking on the role of Fundraising Chair, a short time later.
Though there are many challenges with being an all-volunteer organization, I have been most impressed by the commitment, care – and stamina – of HELP’s longstanding, dedicated volunteer network. The amount of work that is accomplished each day, behind the scenes and right alongside our clientele, is staggering. I feel truly honored to serve among them.
One of my most poignant memories of working with HELP came unexpectedly. We were given the means to film a PSA for the organization. One of the interviewees for our spot was a client, who had agreed to speak on camera about what HELP meant to him. While his rehearsed speech was powerful, I was most impacted by the conversation shared over the bookends of time spent driving to/from his home. He spoke honestly about his past struggles and how Gaithersburg HELP had been a beacon of hope for him. He had received real support in the way of food, but more importantly he felt that he had been given back his dignity. And that meant more to him than anything.
In his memory, I would like to encourage everyone in our community to consider the value of compassion. It is free to give and, for many, priceless to receive.”
Meet Janet – An award winning volunteer for 15 years:
“I started volunteering with Gaithersburg HELP in 2003 as a Food Coordinator, once a month scheduling families to come to our Pantry. This was back in the day when we had a database on one ‘travelling’ laptop. When I was finished for the day I drove the laptop to the home of the Food Coordinator for the next day. Seems pretty primitive now, but it was a real step up from pen and paper to getting that first database on a computer.
Within the first year, Joan Eccard the Director for Rx/Financial at the time, learned that I was a retired nurse and asked me to join the Rx team. This increased my volunteering from once a month to once a week. Then within another year Joan and Walt moved to another state and next thing I knew, I was the Director for Rx/Financial. From that time till now, I have added a few hats and my time commitments have increased. But through it all, I can continue to travel which was why I quit working full-time for pay. I have such a great Rx team, that I have no concerns about being away for a week or two when the opportunity to travel comes up. This flexibility is just one of the many perks of doing volunteer work. However, the biggest reward is working along side so many amazingly caring and dedicated volunteers to carry out our services to those in need. Everyday I get the opportunity to know I am doing something good to ease the burdens of those less fortunate than I am.
I have had so many wonderful experiences that it is hard to single one out, but there is one day I will never forget. I was returning Rx calls, when I called a mom who was sitting in her car crying outside the pharmacy with her sick 2-year-old child in her arms. The doctor had given her a prescription for a flu medication that needed to be started immediately, but when she went to have it filled, she was told child’s insurance was not current and the full cost of the medication was more than the mom could afford. Luckily, the pharmacist gave the mom our Gaithersburg HELP number. When I spoke to the mom, she had already called the insurance company. She was told the insurance could be reinstated the next week, but could not cover the medication today. I did my best to console this mother and reassure her that we could assist to pay for the medication and her child could get started on the medication now. I called the pharmacy and approved the cost; the pharmacist administered the medication to the child on the spot. What a positive feeling I had knowing our organization resolved an unforeseen problem that seemed overwhelming for a frightened mother. Through her tears of relief, she could not stop thanking me.
While this interaction stands out in my mind, I am reminded everyday of the impact Gaithersburg HELP can have on individuals and families struggling to make ends meet. I hope that everyone who reads this will think about volunteering even a little of their time. There are many organizations, including our, that would welcome your time and talent. And in the process, you get the reward of knowing you are contributing to the well-being of our community. The rewards of volunteering have far exceeded my experience working for pay.”
Meet Chuck – a dedicated HELP volunteer for 30+ years. He recently shared this reminiscence:
“When we first started volunteering for HELP in the mid-1980s, I was working in DC, my wife was working in Bethesda, and our son was in 2nd grade. Once a month we would come home from work, pick our son up from the after-school day care, and go to the “pantry” at Epworth. There we would pack bags for up to five deliveries, load them into our car, and plot a route around Gaithersburg using paper maps (remember those) to make our deliveries.
When we began volunteering as pantry workers in the mid-1980s, the pantry was a small room, with overflow to an adjoining hallway, at Epworth United Methodist Church. To access the pantry you first stopped at Mrs. Burress’s house to pick up the key. You then packed your bags, loaded your car, and returned the key to Mrs. Burress before going off on your deliveries.
In the mid-1980s there was no computer system to handle the day’s deliveries. There also wasn’t any email or texting. The pantry worker would call the food coordinator to get the list of the day’s deliveries, writing down the names, addresses, family sizes, and any special needs. There also were no GPS systems so plotting out the most efficient route for making deliveries was a manual, paper-based process.
Before HELP had a real pantry where clients could pick up food, we were an all-delivery operation. Generally that meant no more than five deliveries per day, because that was about all you could load into a car. Still, I remember one evening, probably around Thanksgiving or Christmas, when we needed to squeeze the bags for ten deliveries into a Toyota Tercel along with a 9- or 10-year old and two adults.
Every pantry worker has his or her own system for doing certain tasks. At our previous walk-in pantry, for many years the pantry workers did their own bag packing. My wife and I found that the quickest way to get bags packed for multiple clients was to make piles of food for different size families on the floor. There was room for six piles. So, the first two piles might be for families of one, then a three, two fives, and an eight. I know other people coming into the pantry thought we were nuts, but it worked for us. Still, baggers are a godsend!
Working in the pantry can have its humorous moments, I’ll never forget the client who was adamant that he “didn’t want any of those gazebo beans.”