A slender woman wearing her winter coat inside a meal site on a cold December afternoon in southeast Iowa shared parts of her story between forkfuls of food. She told a volunteer who stopped by her table that she hadn’t eaten in a couple of days and was new to the area. She had spent the night at a nearby shelter and was recovering from illness. She hoped to reconnect with family, who live in another state. Her need for a listener was as deep as her need for a nourishing meal. In his video prayer message for December, Pope Francis talks about the need for ‘“volunteers who commit to the common good,’ who are ‘artisans of mercy’ and multipliers of hope.” We are called to work “with” people rather than “for” people (https://tinyurl.com/365d5eyn).
“The Pope Video” for December focuses on volunteer organizations worldwide assisting victims of natural disasters, people suffering the consequences of economic crisis, children struggling from malnourishment, refugees fleeing war and young people and women seeking employment. “Being a volunteer,” the Holy Father says, “opens us to other people’s needs — to the demands of justice, to the defense of the poor, to the care of creation.”
One of the striking points of his message is for volunteers to get involved with the people they serve “as equals in search of a common cause.” He also insists on the need for greater cooperation among different volunteer organizations and between those organizations and governmental agencies.
Volunteerism takes shape in many ways, some of which may not include direct involvement with the people. However, any volunteer engaged in face-to-face encounters with the people they serve come away changed by that experience, something akin to walking in another’s shoes.
Some, if not many meal sites, in the Diocese of Davenport encourage volunteers to engage in a ministry of presence with their guests, to simply sit down and listen to them. These encounters can motivate volunteers to learn more about the reasons that lead someone to seek assistance, to reach out for help. Education, in turn, ought to lead to advocacy at the county, state and federal level to address possible solutions, such as affordable housing and day care, mentoring for parolees, employment networking, juvenile justice, clean water legislation and mental health resources, for example.
This week’s issue of The Catholic Messenger includes a story about the diocesan Social Action office’s Lunch and Learn webinar for December that provides ideas for volunteerism and for advocacy on a variety of issues. Read the article (Page 3) and check out the websites for action steps.
Many other organizations operating within our diocese need volunteers, such as:
• St. Serra Club of Davenport
(davenportvocations.org/serra-club/). This organization supports vocations throughout the Diocese of Davenport. Its mission is to create a culture of vocations in parishes as a way to spark an increase in vocations in the Church.
• Quad Cities Night to Shine, a prom experience for persons with special needs ages 14 and older needs volunteers to serve as buddies to the prom-goers as well as other tasks that help make the evening memorable. View the volunteer roles online (https://www.qcnight2shine.org/volunteer).
• Iowa City Catholic Worker serves people who are poor, without homes and in-need families. Visit the website (iowacitycatholicworker.org) for information, to get on the Catholic Worker’s mailing list and for volunteer opportunities, such as preparing and/or serving meals to people in need.
• Volunteer Iowa, which seeks to improve lives, strengthen communities and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering (www.volunteeriowa.org).
During this Advent season of hopeful expectation, let us consider how we can be “artisans of mercy” and “multipliers of hope” for people such as the woman at the meal site who, for starters, needs someone to listen.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor