Kathleen Donahue-Coia

The importance of volunteers

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Each year on Ash Wednesday, members of Catholic Charities Board of Advisors and Junior Board are invited to an evening of reflection in our St. Louise de Marillac Chapel at the St. Vincent Center on LaSalle Street. This year we collected socks and underwear for our Pope Francis Ministries, celebrated Mass, distributed ashes and shared a simple meal together. 

I am always amazed by how many of our busy board members make time to attend the event, and even more amazed by the number of young members of our Junior Board (typically aged 25 to 40) who participate. 

We started the evening of reflection to give Catholic Charities board members a special way to begin the Lenten journey of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It has been enthusiastically embraced, with attendance growing each year. For me, the event has become another encouraging sign that even today, when we are constantly tempted by indifference, our desire for love and solidarity with one another still reigns.

Each day, I am humbled by our hundreds of board members and thousands of volunteers who choose to put their faith into action at Catholic Charities. In the words of Pope Francis, volunteers “are among the most precious things the church has, who every day, often silently and unassumingly, give shape and visibility to mercy.  [Volunteers] express one of the most noble desires of the human heart: making a suffering person feel loved.” 

Indeed, volunteers are the lifeblood of Catholic Charities, supplying the love and concern that fuel our services. There is truly a place for everyone who wants to lend a hand, and no act of kindness is too small. 

We have volunteers who offer our guests a smile, warm welcome and a place to rest weary feet while waiting for services. We have scores of volunteers in our shower program who very literally remind me of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples when they lovingly scrub our showers after each and every guest. My heart swells at our various fundraising events when I watch our volunteer event committee members, who have already put in countless hours of work for months ahead of time, working like mad during an event to make sure every detail is just right. 

I am overwhelmed by the generosity of so many people during our Celebration of Giving who make Christmas special for nearly 25,000 people each year — and I was even more overwhelmed once I learned that members of our Lake County Women’s Board hand-deliver gifts to hundreds of seniors so they can enjoy the one-on-one attention of someone bringing a gift especially for them. I am inspired by our youth mentors who choose to spend their free time with teens and young adults in our mentoring programs, showing them that they matter and that people care about them and their futures. 

I am grateful for hundreds of volunteers in our meal programs who bring hot, nutritious meals and friendly visits to homebound seniors. I am also grateful for the thousands of volunteers who daily help Catholic Charities with everything from stocking food pantry shelves to serving dinners in our Evening Supper Programs to caring for seniors at our adult day care sites to stuffing envelopes for our annual appeals. 

Every single volunteer makes a difference and every single volunteer enables Catholic Charities to fulfill its mission of love and service to the poor. 

If you are looking for a place to deepen your Lenten journey through volunteerism this year, please consider one of the many opportunities available at Catholic Charities (ccofchicagovolunteer.com). 

Volunteers truly are the hands of Christ held out to all — sharing his love and mercy and being a concrete sign of our solidarity with one another.


  • catholic charities
  • the voice of catholic charities