Volunteers are the backbone of Catholic Social Services and have been since our beginnings. Active community members and volunteers started Catholic Social Services, and CSS has continued to grow because of them. In some ways, Catholic Social Services is the drawing and is fully realized in color by people in the community who volunteer and bring CSS into full technicolor. Only in partnership between staff and volunteers do the full array of services of CSS happen.
In March of this year, when COVID-19 spread across our nation, CSS took the steps we could to protect our volunteers. We stopped all volunteer programs for months, with no volunteers inside the CSS buildings. It was the right thing to do, but it was a difficult change to make. It was also an enormous learning opportunity. Although we always knew in our hearts that CSS depends on volunteers, the COVID response demonstrated to us that without volunteers, Catholic Social Services simply could not meet the needs of vulnerable people in our community. Only by multiplying our efforts with the hands and voices of our supporters and volunteers can we provide enough service.
In so many programs, this was clear. In our Refugee Assistance program, where we depend on volunteers to teach, classes came to a standstill. At Clare House, where for over 35 years volunteers have brought dinner every night for the families staying there, we had to ask our volunteers to stop. In St. Francis House, where volunteers do so much to distribute food, we had to allocate staff resources to cover for them.
This change was difficult for many of our volunteers as well. Our volunteers and supporters are dedicated to our mission and missing this piece of their day or week was a challenge. Although volunteers were sad to see this change made, they were gracious in their understanding and partnership to assure that we were all working together to protect the health of the whole community.
Over this time, CSS has learned how to better assure a safe working environment for volunteers, and it is a relief and a joy to be able to slowly and carefully invite volunteers back finally. We are committed to assuring health and safety for all. It will take some time, because we need to keep smaller numbers, and it likely will never look quite the same. Together with our volunteers, though, we will figure out how to harness all this energy to serve vulnerable people in our community. Volunteers will always be a vital part of what we do at Catholic Social Services.
One thing our volunteers typically help us with every June is a celebration of World Refugee Day. In the past, we have hosted a large public event. This year we are trying something a little different, hosting a virtual celebration. The celebration will span a week and include a series of discussions on refugees and our community, as well as ways you can help from home. One of these conversations will be with Bishop Bellisario. The bishop is such a strong advocate for vulnerable people and speaks so eloquently on these topics. I hope you can attend this and other conversations and celebrate refugees in our community.
With Virtual World Refugee Week as an example, CSS will continue to serve our community, even though the way we do so may change. We look forward to seeing more of our wonderful volunteers, in person or virtually, as we reintroduce volunteer opportunities and events. The heart, hands, and voices of our volunteers and supporters are invaluable to the work at CSS. As we celebrate this week, we also celebrate the many volunteers who make Anchorage a welcoming home for our newest Alaskans and for all.
You can lean more about World Refugee Day and virtual celebrations at www.cssalaska.org/world-refugee-day.