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For the past nine years, Terri Olexa has volunteered in Mount Carmel Guild, Trenton. Her duties have run the gamut of office work, data entry, checking people in for the Thanksgiving food drive, gathering food to distribute and preparing for the gift exchange.

The pandemic has changed all that.

As early as March, volunteers were told to stay home for their own safety.

While numbers served continue to grow, care receivers for the food distribution program no longer must register or go inside to pick out what they need. Whoever comes to MCG for food, receives it – outside, prepackaged by staff.

In 2020, the Christmas gift shop experience, which always allowed families to pick out toys for their children, no longer relied on volunteer elves to assist with the shopping. Toys were selected by staff and distributed to families.

“This is a new and stressful kind of time,” said Olexa, who greatly misses serving as a volunteer.

But in spite of the many changes across the board, Olexa, who is a member of St. James Parish, Pennington, is encouraged by the outpouring of help from parishes – which is helping keep the food coffers filled and provided toys for Christmas. She applauded the many different ways people were

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Terri Olexa misses working face to face with Mount Carmel

Guild clients. Courtesy photo

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finding to be of service.

For example, she explained, while she couldn’t be present as a volunteer for Thanksgiving, she was able to purchase reusable bags filled by Pennington Quality Market with items requested by Mount Carmel Guild in a partnership planned to feed 900 families. The bags could be dropped off at her parish, or would be picked up by MCG at the Market.

She was glad for that opportunity, but, she said, “I enjoy giving my time. It’s more pleasurable and satisfying being social, and being face to face. Clients look for that. They ask for certain staff or volunteers. They appreciate conversation and personal interaction.”

Olexa continues to be hopeful that things will change back after the pandemic, though it may still be a bit different. When post-COVID format is established, she said, “there may be many new ways in which people will volunteer. All sorts of new possibilities may exist to match clients with services.”

Personally, she acknowledged, “Time is an important commodity. That’s something I’d like to continue to share.”

By Mary Clifford Morrell, contributing editor

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