They form the silent workforce of the Frederick city and county governments, as well as most of the nonprofit groups serving the needs of our community. They work without notice or accolades or complaint — and always without pay.
They are our volunteers.
Many are older, often retired people looking for ways to give back to their community and to make a difference in the lives of others. And in the deadly pandemic raging in our community and our nation, that has become a big problem.
Older Americans have been warned that they are prime targets for the deadly coronavirus, and they have been told in no uncertain terms that they need to stay home to protect themselves and their families and friends.
That means that the organizations that depend on these community-minded people have been forced to tell most of their volunteers that they cannot be used for now, and they are struggling to replace them.
This past week was National Volunteer Appreciation Week, and many government departments and nonprofit groups were reminded of the words of songwriter Joni Mitchell: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
Many older people volunteer in the food banks that distribute groceries to the poor. Food banks are under terrible strain right now, because so many people have been thrown out of work, but so many of their volunteers have been told to stay at home.
At the Frederick Rescue Mission, food distribution which is usually handled by volunteers has been taken over by residents of the mission’s life recovery program, who are packing boxes and handing them out to the people coming for aid.
Guy Mutchler, director of food distribution and facilities, told News-Post reporter Jeremy Arias: “This place is usually 95 percent run by volunteers, [but] that’s gone away because we have no volunteers on campus at all, so we’re using residents.” The residents are packing and distributing between 125 and 175 boxes of food every day.
Many volunteers work in the county’s Senior Services Department, helping out at the Senior Center and delivering meals to shut-ins in the Meals on Wheels program. But out of an abundance of caution, all volunteer activities have been suspended by the department. County employees have taken over the meal deliveries.
They also help out all across the county government, in such areas as the Family Services, in Animal Control with the adoption of pets, and with the fire and rescue companies.
With the city, volunteers are involved in the work of the Community Action Agency, at food banks and soup kitchens and health centers, and for the Parks Department.
Older folks are mainstays for such organizations as Frederick Health Hospital, hospice, the Red Cross, the Literacy Council, Habitat for Humanity and numerous others. Hospice volunteers who cannot visit in person are making regular phone calls to encourage their clients.
Cassandra Chandler, a volunteer coordinator in the county’s Senior Services, wrote a letter to the idled volunteers at Meals on Wheels to thank them, and she added:
“Now that you’ve been away for a bit we find in your absence we have been able to reflect on all that you bring to Meals on Wheels and how we miss and appreciate everything you do for, not only our program, but for our community.”
We are certain that she spoke for so many people in Frederick County, who have a renewed appreciation for how much volunteers add.
Someday — we hope in the not-too-distant future — the crisis of the pandemic will be past, and this invisible but vital workforce will be able to return to all of their former duties. Their work enriches and strengthens our community, adding depth to the efforts of our paid employees both in government and in the nonprofit world.