Like many towns across the state, Worcester has come to a stop. Cars pass less frequently. The parking lot of Doty Elementary is empty, the school’s lights turned off. When you do see people, they walk six feet apart, trying to preserve a sense of normalcy and community in these troubling times.
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has put many people in desperate need of support. In small towns like Worcester, individuals have stepped up and volunteered their time and resources to make sure everyone’s needs in the community are met.
Karen Hoskey is one of these people. Karen runs the local food shelf and the community lunch every Wednesday, when (in normal times) anyone can come into the town hall to eat lunch, and talk with their neighbors. In the last few weeks, the number of families who visit the food shelf has more than doubled, while the community lunch has been cancelled for the foreseeable future.
Karen moved to Worcester from Connecticut, after many years serving as a daycare provider. She loved working with the kids. “Playing with Play-Doh, or laying on our bellies and watching ants carry their dead ants back and forth, or just slowing down and being there for a child.” she said.
Her husband’s job brought them to Worcester where she found herself feeling lonely. Wanting to meet new people and get out of the house, she volunteered to chop onions at the community lunch. A few years later, they gave her the keys.
She loved the new work she was doing. “I have never been in this field before, where people have to come into a place and probably do one of the hardest things ever: ask for help,” she said.
“We as volunteers look at it as an honor.”
Under her guidance, the food shelf expanded, becoming a network partner of the Vermont Foodbank and bringing people from all over the state to the community lunch.
Now the food shelf has had to restructure the way it provides food. Before, people would come into the food shelf and be given a bag to put food into. People had a lot of personal choices. Now, to minimize person to person contact, volunteers will prepare food packages.
The volunteers try to include everything a family might need, fruit, vegetables, grains. People who need food will drive up and park in front of the town hall. They will open the trunk and a volunteer will put a food package in. If the shelf has a surplus of anything, they can offer it to clients, but most of the food is in the package.
Despite these changes, the volunteers continue to work, motivated by memories of the people they’ve served. One of the most significant memories, for Karen, is one before the start of this global pandemic. An older man came into the food shelf, and Karen could immediately tell that he was uncomfortable asking for help. The man told Karen that he had to choose between paying for heat and paying for food.
“I was like, ‘Please pay for your heat, we’re here.’” she said. “And you could see he totally relaxed into the fact that he wasn’t being judged, he just had an avenue for help.”
Karen makes sure to never judge those who come to the food shelf.Volunteering in Worcester
“At any one point,” she said, “we’re all vulnerable.”
Find a Food Shelf near you: https://www.vtfoodbank.org/agency-locator