In honor of National Volunteer Week, The Macon County Care Network, (CareNet) held a luncheon last Thursday to recognize the incalculable amount of sacrifice and dedication that members of the community continue to show through volunteering.
CareNet, a non-profit, tax exempt organization, was established in 1988 by churches throughout the county. It is a non-denominational ministry, which serves as a central location to provide relief for those in crisis. When help from other agencies is either unavailable or insufficient, CareNet provides food and financial assistance along with other necessities, such as prescriptions, utilities, fuel, and rent on an emergency basis.
With only seven paid staff members, CareNet is dependent on volunteers to keep the organization up and running. According to Sandra Queen, who assumed the position as interim Executive Director in January after Vanessa Bailey resigned, CareNet utilizes the services of about 30 volunteers on average a day between the soup kitchen and the thrift store. Last year, volunteers logged more than 28,000 hours of work for CareNet.
“Volunteers work for love, not for money,” said Queen. “Volunteers are representative of love in action. Thank you for this love and concern for your neighbor. I also want to thank you for all the support you have given me since I became interim director.”
The majority of the volunteers who work at CareNet are retired administrators, teachers and other professionals, explained Queen. “There is so much experience, skill, talent, and knowledge in this group, that it humbles me to stand before you,” said Queen. “I truly believe it is God's ministry, and know that he will direct our paths as we move into the future.”
The luncheon was dedicated to the memory of Alice Gordon, who passed away earalier this year. Gordon was a charter board member and founding leader of CareNet, who contributed countless hours to the organization.
During the luncheon, The Nikwasi Dulcimer Players entertained guests as they ate. County Commissioner Ronnie Beale thanked the volunteers for their efforts in Macon County. “I can not thank each of you enough for all that you do for this community. If you ever think what you do goes unnoticed, just remember, workers built the Titanic, but volunteers built the Ark,” said Beale.
Queen presented the volunteers with a certificate for continuing to offer their time to whatever CareNet may need. A special plaque was given to Patrick Jenkins, with Farm Bureau of Macon County for dedicating his “Cold for a Cause' event to CareNet. “This past winter, Patrick collected more than 3,000 coats, jackets and blankets for CareNet,” said Queen.
All of the donations collected through CareNet are directly returned to the community and are provided to Macon County residents exclusively. The main focus of the organization is to bridge the hunger gap in the community by providing clients with food for their tables every day. In 2011, CareNet volunteers worked to distribute 240,000 pounds of food to 6,720 families in need. The “Soup Cafe” served meals to 9,696 individuals throughout the year. Through community support and donations, CareNet was able to collect 141,000 pounds of food, and spent an additional $67,337 to purchase additional food items needed for members of the community.
Aside from working to feed those in need in the community, CareNet also assisted 856 families financially in 2011 by providing $110,856 to help with utilities and heating expenses.
The impact of the economy has caused CareNet to see a drastic increase in the need for the services the organization provides. Volunteers are needed more than ever, just as food and monetary donations. Despite the increase in need and decrease in support, CareNet has continued to strive to provide assistance to anyone and everyone and to never turn anyone away.
Last year, the highest number of Macon County children who received assistance from CareNet’s backpack program was 260. This year, 450 children have been identified by Macon County schools who appear to be hungry and in need of assistance. Last year, volunteers prepared and distributed 10,649 backpacks weighing a total of 47,923 pounds for Macon County students.
“We could not operate as an organization if it was not for the continued community support,” said Queen. “I appreciate our volunteers more than I could possibly express and we would not be able to function without them.”