Why I Continue Volunteering. Especially Now.

COVID-19 volunteer

Editor's Note: We know not everyone can serve at this time for important reasons, but if you feel called to continue serving our vulnerable populations, please refer to our COVID-19 Urgent Needs Volunteer page. To protect the health and the safety of our affiliates, staff and volunteers, please follow the CDC guidelines. If you have experienced any symptoms, we ask that you not volunteer at this time.

If you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
— Isaiah 58:10 (ESV)

Last week, Hope for New York asked me to write about my experience volunteering during COVID-19. I agreed to do it without knowing exactly what I would say...and writing about this while we are still in the middle of COVID-19 is a challenge. This will not be the best or most encouraging or most profound piece of writing. This is an honest response to what it's like volunteering right now at various places. I don’t know if the decisions that we are making are the exact right decisions at the exact right time because we are in uncharted waters. But, I’m praying for grace as we all learn to navigate.

Here is what I know: There are many people in our city who are constantly pushed to the margins. They are homeless, lonely, elderly, and/or struggling to make ends meet. And all this doesn’t stop because of COVID-19. The people who needed help before still need it now, more than ever.

When the reality of this crisis hit New York City, we all had a decision to make immediately. Were we going to be the ones who stockpiled for ourselves and turned inward? Or, were we going to be the ones who prepared not only ourselves but also the community around us as we turned outward?

If you know me well, you have probably heard me mention St. Paul’s House because I really love it there. I knew that they had to be supported, so I asked some friends if they had any extra bars of soap that we could give away to people who are in need, and my friends seriously showed up. I was able to arrive at St. Paul’s House recently with a full bag of bars of soap that were distributed to the guests. What we did at St. Paul’s wasn’t extraordinary. We were simply passing out coffee and hot meals to go, with a hygiene kit on the side. We had fewer guests than usual, but each guest was a reminder that our work is important. That neighborhood is not forgotten. Each person is important. God doesn’t forget them and neither will I.

While volunteering at Brooklyn Recovery House of Worship to prepare pantry bags for the community, there was a sense that now, more than usual, this work was important and necessary. Not just because our community needs the extra food—which they do—but because they also need to be reminded that they are not alone. God has not forgotten them and neither have we. In a time of uncertainty and fear, God is still good. And God is kind. What an incredible blessing to be the hands and feet of God in such a time as this. I am overwhelmingly grateful.

Then, while serving dinner one evening to residents at The Bowery Mission Tribeca location, volunteers were all careful to keep people spaced out as much as possible, though it was challenging in that setting. These residents are among the most vulnerable because many have underlying health conditions and may not have adequate health care. When I left, I felt overwhelmed with worry for the residents, but worry also drives me back to prayer. I was reminded that God is in control where we fall short, and he does not forget or overlook any of his people.

As I serve, especially now, I remember this lyric: I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.

I hope you've been encouraged to turn outward when much of the world is choosing to turn inward. While we are physically isolating, let us not forget that God has never stopped loving us and therefore we must not stop loving others. We are not called to serve others only when it is convenient, or give only when we are comfortable, or pray only when we need something for ourselves. When we look back on this time, let it be a time that we responded to fear with prayer and obedience.

The three main ways that you can support others during this time are to Pray, Give, and Serve. Please, if you are able, find the ways that you can support the marginalized during this time by visiting the HFNY COVID-19 resource page.


Mary Beth is a Team Leader for St. Paul's House and a member of the Hope for New York Young Supporters Committee.