Volunteers help St. Louis Park Emergency Program (column)

Allison Bittner
Allison Bittner

By Guest Columnist Allison Bittner

The month of April is Volunteer Appreciation Month. At STEP, we are beyond appreciative for our many dedicated volunteers.

We have more than 120 volunteers that donate their time for a four-hour shift once a week or sometimes more. These volunteer hours add up to be the equivalent of more than nine full-time staff members. One of the many things that make my job here at STEP amazing is getting to work with these dedicated volunteers every day and seeing how much is accomplished for our community through the hours of volunteering that they give. Day in and day out, I watch as they work to sort, stock and give out thousands of pounds of food each week.

Our volunteers work every day to ensure the community can make appointments, shop for healthful food options and shop for clothing in a warm, inviting and respectful environment. They do difficult jobs like cleaning, lifting heavy cases and sorting through less-than-appetizing produce so that STEP can offer our services to the St. Louis Park community.

Of the things we have to give, time is truly one of the most valuable. I am continually amazed and inspired by the generosity of our volunteers with the time and commitment they give to STEP each and every week. STEP, like many nonprofits, would not be able to exist in the community without our volunteers and the work that they do. Volunteers are the backbone and the heart of many agencies and organizations and the reason so much can be accomplished without a large budget.

Volunteering fills the needs of a community in many ways. Some are more obvious, like the work that needs to be done in a community without much cost. The other needs that are met are not always as visible, like the sense of purpose, belonging and accomplishment volunteering can bring to the volunteer. We have had volunteers seek out a place here at STEP out of a variety of life situations: retirement, the loss of a spouse or loved one, community service, mental health concerns, job loss or change or just because they were looking to give back. Those volunteers all found a home and a sense of community through their volunteer work.

One of our volunteers said, “I volunteer at STEP because it is fun! But more important is that I hope in some small way I am able to help others. I know that along my life journey I have received help from others. Though the needs were different, connection to people is vital. At STEP, it is my neighbors I help, which in turn makes St. Louis Park a great community. Finally, I feel STEP is well-run organization, with everyone involved sincere and caring in the work that they do.”

Many volunteers form amazing friendships through volunteer work and become very much attached to their weekly schedule of volunteering with their shift-mates.

The community benefits immeasurably from the work of volunteers.

Volunteers here at STEP represent our organization on a regular basis, and their kindness, enthusiasm and commitment show through in all the work that they do. They show our clients and community members genuine compassion, care and concern day in and day out through their volunteer work.

Volunteering is a crucial part of our community and may even give you the chance to spend time on something you are passionate about. There are volunteer positions to fit everyone’s schedule and skill set and a variety of incredible local programs deserving of your time and energy. I encourage you to find an opportunity and give volunteering a try, or show your appreciation to a volunteer you know!

Allison Bittner is the volunteer coordinator and food shelf manager for the St. Louis Park Emergency Program, or STEP. Contact her at 952-925-4899, Ext. 11, or [email protected]