On a sunny morning, about a dozen masked volunteers get to work assembling raised planter beds. Bright red flowers and vegetable sprouts make their way into thick black potting soil. The beds add a touch of greenery to an otherwise urban environment surrounding the Chinatown Navigation Center in Salinas.
Thanks to the work of these volunteers from various groups – such as AmeriCorps, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, CSU Monterey Bay and Return of the Natives – then recruited by Community Builders for Monterey County, the garden beds will one day bring a little bit of fresh food and lively blooms to the transient population the Navigation Center serves. The project itself was the brainchild of Community Homeless Solutions.
Tish Sammon, director of Community Builders, has watched the volunteer world shift in the past year. Now she has numbers to show how volunteers felt about their work during the pandemic, thanks to a non-scientific survey conducted last October. Volunteer participation by age groups was split, 24 percent each from younger people (ages 18-24 years old) and elders (ages 65-74). And despite the pandemic, 81 percent of survey takers said they prefer in-person volunteer experiences over virtual.
“It’s nice to be with people for a change,” says Evens Lanot. He’s with AmeriCorps and volunteers at nonprofit Loaves, Fishes and Computers in Salinas, and most of his work has been virtual. The other volunteers, many of them who volunteer online, nod their heads in agreement. Many of them, like Lanot, have been mostly offering their free labor and time behind a screen.
There are dozens of opportunities in the coming weeks to lend a helping hand, some in honor of National Volunteer Month. Whether you need the hours for school or job experience, or are just in the mood to give back, here are few places to get started if you want to help out locally:
Love Our Central Coast, loveourcentralcoast.org
They regularly list new volunteer opportunities (both with LOCC and other organizations) using an easy sign-up form.
Food Bank for Monterey County, 758-1523, foodbankformontereycounty.org
Opportunities include food distribution, warehouse work and more to assist the hungriest.
Blue Zones Monterey County, info.bluezonesproject.com/montereycounty
Blue Zones has curated a calendar of volunteer opportunities for the entire month of April in celebration of National Volunteer Month.
Community Builders for Monterey County, combuildersmc.org
They maintain a list of virtual and in-person volunteer opportunities for every interest, bringing opportunities from over 70 local nonprofits to you.
All-In Monterey, allinmonterey.com
The all-volunteer group formed during the pandemic to help meet basic needs of community members.