Nora Dragich

December Reflections: Volunteer Services

Q&A with Nora Dragich, Volunteer Experience Supervisor

While we’re far from out of the woods in responding to and recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we thought it important to reflect on a remarkable year and some of its bright spots. Keep an eye out this month for the reflections from numerous Second Harvest Heartland team members.

What's something positive that the Volunteer Services team has experienced this year?

The Volunteer Experience Ambassador (VEA) team is used to thinking and adjusting on the fly, but this year we have really had to adapt to figure out how we are going achieve our goals with a greatly reduced (or temporarily halted) number of volunteers while keeping everyone six feet apart! This need has given the VEAs the opportunity to really analyze projects and look for creative solutions to get things done.

Is there a silver lining to these adaptations?

With having fewer volunteers in our Volunteer Center, we have had the opportunity to really get to know our repeat volunteers which is a fabulous thing!

Were you able to do anything this year that you never would have dreamed about or attempted to do if not for COVID?

Transforming our Volunteer Center from a jam-packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, 100-volunteer operation to just 10 volunteers to then 0 volunteers happened really fast, and it was scary! But the team came together to support one another during our own times of uncertainty, and we used that time and connection to create new packing processes and an environment in which the VEAs and volunteers feel safe to work in. That’s an incredible thing – something I could have never imagined happening before COVID caused us to roll up our sleeves and figure it out!

What COVID-response learnings will the volunteer experience team carry into the future?

Our volunteers are second to none! Incredibly and fortunately we have learned that volunteers are even more motivated and connected to our work in times of crisis. And we’ve seen just how much trust we all have in each other.

We have learned that if we are thorough in our processes and create an environment that is safe for our volunteers, they will eagerly come and help us move food to our hungry neighbors. We’ve always known that volunteers are amazing, but in these trying times, we have been blown away by the response to our need for help.

Our Volunteer Experience Ambassadors are true leaders! The team has taken on more responsibility for directing their own work in the volunteer center and new leaders in the team have emerged. This is very exciting and creates opportunities for new work and direction for the team that we will certainly harness going forward

We’re a more connected team despite being apart! Our volunteer services team of 13 has had increased opportunity and need to work more closely as we figure out how to manage an ever-changing world and this has led to increased cohesion and sharing of ideas across the team.

And, we’ve built increased connection with other teams — operations, sourcing, human resources – as we continue to work in a global pandemic. There is so little that is “normal” or “same” anymore and teams have really had to come together to figure out how to make things flow smoothly in a very bumpy world!

Learn more about volunteering with Second Harvest Heartland, but note that our volunteer operations are currently suspended through mid-January out of an abundance of caution as COVID cases surge in our region.