Volunteers find ways to give back during the pandemic

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Cynthia Flores-Mocarski, a professional photographer, has been volunteering her talents recording Masses and messages during the pandemic at St. Francis Borgia Parish where her husband is a deacon. Here she tapes Father Joe Mulcrone of the St. Francis Borgia Deaf Center during a video message in sign language on May 1, 2020. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Since the pandemic hit the United States, a quote from Mister Rogers has been circulating on social media about those who give back in times of trial.

“When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,’” he reportedly said.

That certainly has been the case in the Archdiocese of Chicago, where many Catholics have stepped up to volunteer their time and talents during the pandemic.

One such volunteer is Terese Herbig, who has been coordinating volunteers for St. Mary of the Lake Parish’s weekly pop-up food pantry, which started April 19 and will be held every Sunday rain or shine at the parish, 4220 N. Sheridan Road, until the coronavirus crisis is over. As of press time, the pantry has served over 11,000 people from all over the Chicago area.

“I think the first week we had over 2,000 people in line. It was crazy but it was so rewarding,” Herbig said. “Our church doors are closed but we can still serve people, we can still carry out our mission.”

It’s been an emotional experience too.

“That very first weekend when we finished, it was just an amazing feeling for all of us. I can remember crying on my way home,” she said. “The one thing that I feel so privileged to be able to do is to stand in front of the church and thank people for coming but also wish them well and wish them blessings. And also to receive their thanks.”

While she does worry about being exposed to someone with COVID-19, Herbig said the parish is doing everything it can to keep volunteers and guests safe. In the end, volunteering during the crisis is a way for the mother to honor her 18-year-old daughter, who died by suicide in August.

“When you’re going through grief there are a lot of things going through your head. Being able to support others is my way to get through a day,” she said. “It gives me a purpose to get up and reminds me that I need to honor my daughter and be an example for my son who is here and an example to everyone else who is watching.”

For some people, like Cynthia Flores-Mocraski, volunteering during the crisis has been a matter of using their gifts and talents where needed. Flores-Mocraski is a professional photographer whose skills in the visual arts inspired her to volunteer to livestream Masses and produce videos for St. Francis Borgia Parish, 8033 W. Addison St., and the St. Francis Borgia Deaf Center.

“It was a little scary at first because I’m not a videographer,” she said. “Obviously I’ve done some here and there, but I would never call myself a professional.”

Her efforts quickly expanded from using one camera to two and then incorporating photos of the parish in the Mass videos. She films Masses in both Polish and English.

“During the Eucharist, I was thinking of the people who go to daily Mass and cannot go to Mass who are really hurting so I started putting pictures of the Eucharist in and zooming in on it during Mass so they could feel like they were there,” Flores-Mocraski said. “I think it was the response of the people that really helped me to get the courage to do the livestreaming because we’re not set up for that.”

Her efforts have required some creativity. For example, the church does not have the internet connection needed to livestream the Mass. So she and her husband, who is a deacon at the parish, ran a cable from his office in the school through windows and across to the church.

She also worked with the parish music minister to figure out how to hook up audio inputs to her camera while filming. When they started, they used the microphones in the parish, but that caused an echo that made it difficult to hear. She has spent countless hours researching and trying things out.

Even though she has an incurable autoimmune disease, she hasn’t been worried about contracting COVID-19 while volunteering at her parish, since only a few people are in the church during the recording.

“I felt like our parishioners needed this. I never really thought of myself or my illness or how it would affect me,” Flores-Mocraski said. “It was just part of my ministry. I didn’t second guess it.”

Kevin Stanley said his parents taught him to help others in need when he was growing up, and he is drawing on that lesson now as a volunteer for Catholic Charities sending out hand-written notes to the refugee clients and their families.

They are also providing the clients gift cards to grocery stores.

The refugees’ journeys inspire him.

“I really admire the clients who come through the door,” he said. “They’ve really encountered a lot of challenges throughout their lives and the positive attitude they have and the gratefulness they have when being presented with a suit coat, a pair of pants or shoes for a job interview is inspiring.”

Working with them during the crisis adds value to his own journey, he said.

“It gives me perspective, especially during a time like this when there is a lot of uncertainty,” Stanley said. “It keeps me grounded to understand that people have a lot more serious things going on in their lives than I do. It helps me be more selfless.”


  • parishes
  • coronavirus

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