By Corrine Casanova
Volunteers are at the heart of the Catholic Charities & St. Vincent’s Programs. In fact, typically their staff consists of 50 percent employees and 50 percent volunteers. Barbara Klipfel, Director of Community Outreach & Engagement, has the names of 6,000 volunteers in her database. In 2016, volunteers logged in 52,000 hours with Catholic Charities. All of those hours are through direct service. They have 13 separate programs in three separate divisions and volunteers are in every single one of them.
Marie Baxter, Chief Relationship Officer, shared, “It’s incredible, we have volunteers that are like our employees. They are fiercely loyal and some have been with us for 17 plus years. During the holidays, we have a feeding families program where we fill 6,000 – 8,000 bags of food which is enough for a full holiday family meal including a ham or turkey. Although we are located in Reno, we provide services to all counties in Nevada except Clark County. We actually have the largest food pantry in the state. About 30,000 bags are distributed monthly and every single piece of food has to go through food pantry here. We have 160 food pantries that are connected back to Catholic Charities so on a weekly basis we have staff that go out and provide food in those pantries year-round. In addition, we have a team of social workers that go out with that food to provide immediate family and individual support services. Our social workers are on site with our larger mission of helping families move out of poverty and toward sustainability. We have 208 employees at Catholic Charities and about an $11 million budget.”
Klipfel shared her enthusiasm for volunteering, “If somebody wants to volunteer and isn’t sure where, I take them on a tour of the campus. We typically start out in the food pantry and I point out the different types of positions that may be available there. On a monthly basis, individuals and families can pick up supplemental food. With this USDA funded program, different size boxes are provided for the size of the family. We also do repackaging of bulk items like pet food into smaller pouches which are also available to families with pets.”
They are flexible with their volunteers because of how many volunteers are needed. Some choose to work in the food shelf or thrift stores while others prefer working in the administrative office helping with mailings, data entry or donor relations. One business was having a conference and invited all general managers to come volunteer for several hours. “Because we are such a large agency we can accommodate having 30-40 people who can come for one day or as little as a few hours. We have an international organization here in Reno who had an international day of service where all of their 18 offices around the world were doing a day of service. They chose us so we had about 30 people helping us in the food pantry all day long. We have other groups, like charter schools that help us out in our thrift stores.”
One of the most unique events was when a business did a scavenger hunt based on the Amazing Race as part of a corporate team building retreat. They chose four nonprofits in town where they served breakfast at a homeless shelter and then each completed different tasks at another nonprofit where some helped fix a roof while others painted. They then all went for a bike ride for some physical fitness and then came to Catholic Charity’s food pantry. The four teams had a competition on who could complete the most repackaging of the food in an hour. They concluded the day in Virginia City where they had dinner and went on a mystery ghost tour. These are the types of events that can make volunteering unique and different. “There is something for everyone here. We have volunteers who work in the immigration office who help people fill out paperwork. We have a doctor from Truckee who volunteers once a month and does a clinic. We have a clinical PA she comes in and does immunizations. So, there are a lot of different ways people can help almost every day.”
Catholic Charities is seeking employment and financial literacy coaches as well. One of their programs that has received national recognition, Crossroads, is one of the best kept secrets in Reno. It is a residential sober living program for people who have drug and alcohol problems who have decided that they are done with that part of life. Residents can live there permanently as long as they are working their case plan and are sober. There are 160 beds located in three separate facilities. Their Learn to Earn program is currently seeking businesses who are willing to take a chance on employing someone who has turned their life around.
Catholic Charities is located at 500 E. Fourth St. To learn more about volunteering opportunities, contact Barbara Klipfel at 775-322-7073, extension 238.