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Thursday, April 13, 2023

“Anytime you Get a Chance to See Young People Make a Difference, it is Enormously Gratifying:’ Q&A with Ellen Modica, Nominee for 2023 CCUSA Volunteer of the Year Award

April is National Volunteer Month. Meet some of the hardworking individuals who regularly give back to Catholic Charities Boston.

Nominated for Catholic Charities USA’s Volunteer of the Year Award, Ellen Modica has been a loyal volunteer at the Yawkey Food Pantry in Dorchester since the spring of 2020, when COVID caused a significant increase in pantry visits, with nearly 200 families seeking food assistance a day. Ellen has shown up almost every Saturday since to help with everything from stocking paper bags and working the assembly line to assisting Vice President of Basic Needs Beth Chambers in organizing volunteer operations when she has been unable to attend.

A 20-year employee of Boston College’s Campus Ministry, and a “double eagle” herself, Ellen has prompted many athletic teams and student groups across campus to volunteer at Yawkey. Her contagious optimism and team attitude has helped her to forge many friendships with fellow volunteers over the years.

How did you first get involved with Catholic Charities’ Yawkey Food Pantry?

Working in campus ministry at Boston College, I’ve known about Catholic Charities for most of my life and all the great work the Agency does, but my first long-term work with them began right after COVID hit in 2020. The pantry couldn’t allow people to come into the center to pick up food on their own, so they set up a system where volunteers came in on Saturdays to bag the food and put it out for clients. I’ve been volunteering nearly every Saturday since.

Have your responsibilities as a volunteer at the Yawkey Food Pantry changed over the course of the past few years?

Most of the time we’re bagging up bags of food––that is one of the greatest needs. Sometimes we put additional smaller bags of things together or participate in the big Thanksgiving Turkey distribution, but essentially the work that we do Saturday to Saturday doesn’t change. What I always look forward to is getting to connect with the other volunteers.

Do you volunteer with the same group every week?

We have a group of people that have been volunteering for quite a long time. There are about four or five of us who are there more often than not most Saturdays. There are students from St. Sebastian’s High School and B.C. High, as well as parishioners from St. Cecilia’s and St. Ignatius, which is my parish. There’s also a Boston Police Department officer, Manny Dambreville, who brings in a group of students every week to volunteer who have become instrumental to the program. They take a lot of ownership. Anytime you get a chance to see young people choosing to make a difference, it is enormously gratifying.

As someone who works at a college, why do you think it is valuable for students to get volunteer experience?

B.C teaches that we should be men and women for others, so service is really built into who we are. We are not just asking students to give back; we are asking everyone to.

It’s good for students who don’t struggle with food insecurity and don’t really have to think about where their next meal is coming from to make a strong connection with the fact that many people do. It’s one thing to know about it, but it’s another thing to be there, volunteering at the food pantry. Seeing this makes it very real for volunteers.

There are also plenty of students who experience food insecurity themselves. When they go home and are not on a meal plan, they don’t know where their next meal is going to be coming from. Volunteering is a way for them to take action and have some agency in addressing food insecurity.

What do you find most rewarding about your service at Yawkey Food Pantry?

One of the rewards is just knowing that the physical work that we do makes a difference. I’ll admit, there have been Saturdays when I think I’d like a full weekend for myself, but I need that weekend for myself a whole lot less than people need food. Just knowing that the small little piece that I contribute makes a difference has been great.

The people that I’ve met have also been a big reason that I keep going back. I’ve made so many really nice close friendships. There are amazing people I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

To learn more about how you can volunteer at the Yawkey Food Pantry, or at any of Catholic Charities Boston’s sites, click here.

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