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Volunteer Spotlight: Finding value in service, and in each other

Mason first came to the Catholic Charities Food Pantry to fulfill required service hours – what kept him coming back was something more.

Helias Catholic High School students participate in a service retreat on-site at Catholic Charities Central Offices by sorting food, stocking shelves, and deep cleaning The Catholic Charities Food Pantry

By Lori Stoll with Ashley Wiskirchen

Mason,a senior at Helias Catholic High School knew he would need to complete [number] service hours throughout the 2023 school year, but wasn’t quite sure how he’d get those finished, or who he would volunteer with.

Mason’s grandmother, a volunteer in The Catholic Charities Food Pantry, shared her experiences working alongside Catholic Charities staff to welcome neighbors, check out and bag groceries, and walk shoppers to their cars during her volunteer shifts. She asked pantry staff if Mason could tag along for a shift to see how things worked and consider filling his volunteer hours in the pantry – our staff eagerly responded, “of course!”

For his first few shifts, Mason diligently stocked shelves, stayed to himself, and carried out tasks as asked by staff. Mason was reserved and quiet – our staff appreciated his willingness to set and reset the pantry for neighbors who would visit to fill their own pantries and refrigerators with healthy food.

One day, Mason offered up a somewhat unexpected request; could he volunteer during the pantry shifts to help neighbors who were shopping? The staff were excited – “of course!” they eagerly answered again. Mason took up the active pantry shopping shifts and grew more and more comfortable engaging with neighbors and offering to help them shop.

With every shift, our staff saw Mason step a little bit further from his comfort zone – from back-of-house work sorting food and stocking shelves to the welcome center desk to greet clients and talk with shoppers.  

“Each shift he volunteered for it was so fun to watch him grow and be himself,” shared Food Programs Coordinator, Lori Stoll, “He seemed to find value in how he was spending his time, and we could see it.”

To our staff’s delight, Mason started checking in to see which shifts were short-handed and needed more volunteers. He began snagging volunteer opportunity spots to make sure the staff had as much support as they needed to serve neighbors well. He came with jokes and stories to share with other volunteers and neighbors – starting conversations and enjoying visiting during his shift.

“I even heard his grandmother say, ‘I don’t know what happened here, but he is changed – and better for it,’ and that really stuck with me,” Stoll shared.

During Mason’s last shift to fulfill his Helias service hours, the staff felt bittersweet. They had genuinely enjoyed their time together, and while feeling proud of him for reaching his service goal, they also knew they’d miss seeing him in the pantry.

He surprised them, yet again, by signing up for eight more pantry shifts when he got home that night.

“We have this big goal to make food more accessible for our neighbors in need,” Lori shared, “but what we see happen time and time again is that our neighbors, and those who volunteer alongside them, find more than food here – they find that they are valued.”

“And, personally, I am so grateful for Mason to share his time with us,” she continued, “I’m so glad that our volunteers think that their time here is valuable – because we think of each of them as valuable, too.”



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