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Volunteer efforts bouncing back this holiday season

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Food Bank of CNY
Volunteers from a local Dunkin franchise packing boxes at the Food Bank of CNY in 2019.

This November marks the second holiday season amid a global pandemic. Last year, with vaccines yet to be rolled out, holiday travel and gatherings helped COVID-19 spread like wildfire across much of the U.S.

That’s why Nancy Eaton, President of United Way of Central New York, says many local nonprofits paused their volunteer opportunities.

“Last year, before there was a vaccine, there wasn't much volunteering available at all,” said Eaton.

Now with nearly 70% of New Yorkers vaccinated, volunteers are coming out in droves to help their communities.

“We have a growing number of individuals, and then corporations that want to partner with us,” said Lynn Hy of the Food Bank of Central New York. “So we are pretty full with volunteers here for the remainder of November and in December as well.”

Hy said that this holiday season many corporate volunteer groups are returning for the first time since the pandemic started, filling up all of their volunteering spots.

She said this is so helpful considering the need for food assistance has increased throughout the pandemic. For Mike Nortman at Syracuse’s Meals on Wheels, he said demand for his meals went up because so many people were isolating.

“Basically, people were self quarantining, they were afraid to go to the grocery store and that kind of thing,” he said. “So we had a lot more people to serve.”

Nortman said that, admittedly, Meals on Wheels has been struggling with getting enough volunteers ever since they resumed five-day meal delivery last month.

He said this results in staff having to cover several delivery shifts.

“It's kind of a catch 22–part of my job is to recruit volunteers, but if I'm delivering meals, I can't recruit volunteers so I have to deliver meals,” he said.

He says they’ll accept all the volunteers they can get to deliver meals this holiday season.

While not all nonprofits are bouncing back at the same rate, they’re all grateful for any volunteers they’re getting and to continue serving the central New York community.

Madison Ruffo received a Master’s Degree from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in audio and health/science reporting. Madison has extensively covered the environment, local politics, public health, and business. When she’s not reporting, you can find Madison reading, hiking, and spending time with her family and friends.