Deena C. Bouknight Contributing Writer
It is no surprise that the pandemic dramatically affected in-person volunteerism in this region and throughout the United States. Macon County has not been immune. And while many volunteer opportunities are available with Macon County nonprofit organizations, two in particular especially need individuals to help with ongoing projects and services.
“In Macon County, we saw a significant loss of volunteer home delivered meal drivers when the pandemic began,” said Jennifer Hollifield, administrative officer at Macon County Senior Services. “Unfortunately, many of those volunteers have not returned to delivering meals. Our program relies heavily on volunteers to drive our different routes, both in Franklin and Highlands.”
Meals on Wheels was first established by a small group of Philadelphia, Pa., citizens in 1954, and then it became a national movement in almost every community in America, with the main organization citing that 2.4 million seniors annually are fed through the program.
“Without wonderful volunteers,” said Hollifield, “we could not deliver the approximately 50 hot meals every day (Monday through Friday) to our homebound older adults.”
To assist with Macon County’s Meals on Wheels, individuals can stop by the Community Resource Center, located in the Crawford Senior Center at 108 Wayah Street, for a volunteer application. The process to become a volunteer involves not only a completed application, but also a background check.
Hollifield added, “Meals are prepared by Angel Medical Center, and staff at Senior Services package the hot meals for the volunteers. Volunteers pick up the meals at Senior Services. Each volunteer drives a route that typically has around 10-12 recipients, and routes are based on geographic areas. Most routes take approximately one to one-and-a-half hours to complete and the majority of volunteers only drive one route a week.”
Initially, new volunteers ride with staff or existing volunteers to learn a particular Meals on Wheels route that they will be driving – in order to become comfortable with the route.
Another organization needing volunteers is Smoky Mountain Pregnancy Care Center (SMPCC), which has been serving the Western North Carolina area since 2001. Primarily, SMPCC offers free and confidential pregnancy testing, and positive tests are verified through Limited Obstetrical Ultrasounds. Volunteers help SMPCC keep the three medical clinics up and running smoothly and serve on its board of directors.
With a location on Palmer Street in Franklin, and another in Sylva, the Center also provides a variety of additional services, including medical and peer-counseling, a 24-hour helpline, in-person or online parenting classes, and a mobile medical clinic.
According to Marketing and Media Director Beckie Langston, would-be volunteers who want to work directly with the clients must complete the Love Approach training that addresses all kinds of issues, even how to answer phones.
However, volunteers do not need to complete a training program to handle SMPCC’s myriad tasks, such as, organizing the “rewards” closets, which entails changing out seasonal clothing and restocking shelves.
“We sort and clean all gently used donations that come through our doors,” said Langston. “And we need skilled individuals to handle property maintenance, tree cutting, painting, and lawn service. We even need people to pray.”
The mobile medical unit, which travels throughout Western North Carolina with a registered nurse onboard to provide free and confidential services, requires volunteers to assist the staff at each destination location. This requires a “specific type of volunteer,” pointed out Langston, who can handle potentially tense situations that might arise – such as hostile protestors.
“And always, financial support is vital,” she added. “That’s what keeps the doors open and the services available.”
Interested volunteers can visit https://smokypartners.com to learn how to donate or fill out an online application.