By CLOEY CALLAHAN
With the ongoing pandemic, volunteers in Newburgh have continued to step up to help their community in a variety of different ways, whether it be food for Thanksgiving, coats for the Winter, or the weekly food distribution at the Newburgh Unity Armory Center.
Linda Jansen, a resident of Middletown who has become a well known face in Newburgh, has spent most of her days volunteering and making a difference in her community. She isn’t a stranger to the ins and outs of volunteering, as she started when she was 24 years old when her friend needed help serving the community at a local church. Being in a family of thirteen, she knew she would be able to easily cook for the 12 to 15 people who were in a need.
“It was a no brainer for me, so I said sure,” said Jansen. “It led to me becoming a staff member there and my career in community and human services.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she knew she wasn’t going to stop volunteering. The Newburgh Unity Armory Center began their weekly distribution, the call went out for volunteer help. Thanks to all the volunteers, anywhere between 600 and 700 families are fed on any given week. Help comes from not only community members but those from local churches, the marines and more.
“They show up every Wednesday on time and with a smile,” said William Kaplan, the founder and chairman of the Armory. “They don’t need any compensation but a ‘thank you.’ And they are taking a risk to be here.”
In Kaplan’s letter to the editor, he said he is “in awe of this select group of heroes that make this weekly effort to feed people from all walks of life and situations.”
Jansen’s volunteer work during the Wednesday affair is to break down the hundreds of boxes that the food comes in, something that she truly loves to do.
Her helping the community doesn’t stop there – she’s participated in a number of Maggie Jurick Mehr’s “Keep Newburgh Beautiful” cleanup events, has worked with We Are Newburgh, and has been an over 20-year volunteer for the Loaves and Fishes annual event.
She said that since the pandemic hit, there has been a lot more involvement with trying to get the word out to people about the help the community is offering.
Jansen explained that anyone can volunteer and make a difference in their community.
“I think people put more emphasis on finding a reason not to volunteer, then just doing it,” said Jansen. “The amount of energy I’ve seen people find excuses to say no when if you say yes, and do it, you’re going to find you have the time.”
On top of the joy of giving back to your own community, Jansen has been able to meet a handful of different people who have impacted her life in a multitude of ways, whether it be other volunteers or people who are in need.
“You can’t sit in your house or job and say ‘this is what those people need,’ because you don’t know until you actually go out there and talk to them,” said Jansen. “People get comfortable with you, start trusting you, and that’s the big thing.”
“You really have to be a part of the action you’d like the community to take,” said Jansen. “You have to help do it.”
She explained that when you volunteer, you’re saying, “I like my community and I want to be a part of it.”
Jansen isn’t the only volunteer in the Newburgh community who has gone above and beyond, even during a pandemic. Tina Jackson has also been distributing food on a weekly basis for those who are in need, which she has been doing for seven years. She sets up at the corner of Lander and Farrington Streets every Tuesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., or until they run out. She ensures that everyone is wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance from one another to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while also making sure people are fed.
Aside from the food pantry, she also holds a back to school summer event every year to help provide for those in the community.
“During the pandemic, I continued to provide because there is a need,” said Jackson. “There is a greater need now than ever before.”
For her, volunteering is about building relationships and informing the entire community about the different services being offered.
Susan Conner, retired teacher and school librarian at the Newburgh City School District, has also dedicated her time to volunteering in the area. She is a member of the Society of St. Vincent DePaul chapter of the Parish of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta in Newburgh, which allows her to help with their baby outreach center. Thankfully, with donations of personal protective equipment, the safety of both volunteers and visitors is ensured.
“Our families now visit us once a month instead of weekly to pick up their diapers, hygiene and clothes instead of weekly,” said Conner. “Many of the moms who visit us walk to the center with their children, so we thought a once a month schedule would be best during this pandemic.”
One plus side that Conner has observed is that the volunteers have started to think outside of the box. One of the volunteers created a texting program to keep in touch with the families they help.
For those who are looking to volunteer in the community, Jansen suggested finding something that you feel like you can help find a positive impact on. Jackson said that if you are interested in finding volunteer opportunities, you can contact her at 845-245-1422.