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Finding, giving joy through volunteering

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Volunteering is a family affair for Tom, Kate, Alex and Chris Horan. The family, parishioners of St. Andrew the Apostle in Clifton, joined diocesan Catholic Charities in serving the poor in the diocese in different ways.

"Volunteering brings us joy. We are humbled and honored to have the opportunity to serve with Catholic Charities," said Kate Horan. 

Last November on World Day of the Poor, they showed up at Catholic Charities’ new Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic in Woodbridge, where flu shots, coats and food were being provided to families in need. On weekends, they frequently help unload and sort parish food drive donations at Catholic Charities’ St. Lucy Food Project warehouse in Manassas. Last month, Chris, along with two fellow students from St. Paul the VI Catholic High School in Chantilly, took the initiative and assembled 50 hygiene packs as a service project to support Catholic Charities’ Mobile Response Center (Mercy Van), which distributes household necessities to struggling rural neighbors.

"Volunteering helps us follow Christ's example and grow closer to him," Kate said. "It also helps us grow closer to our neighbors, and our relationship with our neighbors is a reflection of our relationship with Christ."

"The Horans are one family’s expression of Christ’s love cascading in our community," said Debra Beard, director of volunteers for diocesan Catholic Charities. "In April, National Volunteer Month, Catholic Charities staff acknowledges the 3,000 registered volunteers who have both found and given joy by serving neighbors through 21 ministries. Throughout the pandemic, we have witnessed essential, generous and touching gestures of love and service that have allowed us to continue to serve the poor in our diocese. These volunteers bring a set of diverse skills to our agency, yet, their unifying attribute is a heart for serving others. This generosity over the past year has translated into an average of 1,200 hours of service a week."

Volunteering at Catholic Charities is consequential in a normal year, Beard noted. During a life-altering pandemic, she said volunteers transform lives by offering hope.

Eve Montavon and her son Peter stepped up and on a weekly basis delivered diapers and baby items to struggling new moms throughout the diocese. Food pantry volunteers sorted, packed and handed out groceries to some 82,000 individuals who needed food for their families. Countless students and families created care packages in at-home service projects. These included learning materials for young learners, activity kits for the elderly, and much-needed hygiene items for men and women returning to the community following incarceration.

More than 100 volunteer teachers offered to go online to continue to teach English and citizenship classes to immigrant and refugee families. Scores of parish and community dinner teams continue to assemble ready-to-eat meals every night to feed homeless women and men who come to the Christ House evening meal.

"Our volunteers foster community solidarity everywhere we look," Beard added. "They possess the willingness to care about their neighbors in need; and this willingness often eases the suffering of a stranger. While many of us have been overwhelmed by fear of the unknown during this pandemic, it has been a joy to know and witness Christ’s love expressed in countless incredible small and large gestures throughout our diocese by men, women and children who’ve stepped up to serve."

The experience calls to mind for her the story of the prophet Elijah.

"In all this overwhelming, messy, complicated pandemic, God reveals himself to us as he did to Elijah. Not with a loud gong, but with a whisper," Beard said. "His whisper tells us he is close because we speak quietly when we are close to others. He is always close to us. We see it in the humanity and love of our volunteers. We are strong because of the Lord, and we are stronger as a community when we listen to his voice. God is whispering to you, calling you, encouraging you with his abundant love."

Find out more

To see more volunteer highlights on social media, search #FindYourJoy.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021