Volunteering in the time of Covid-19 at Pontiac's Micah-6The Nonprofit Journal Project


At the Micah 6 Community, we have a lot going on. We have our vegetable store, our gardens, our summer kids programs, and the ad hoc help we provide our community such as rides to the pharmacy, tracking down furniture, and the occasional lawn mowing for one of our neighborhood seniors. This work typically gets accomplished by volunteer groups.


Starting in March we begin getting the phone calls: GM wants to send a group for GM Cares Day, Birmingham United Methodist is planning a service project for their youth group, our friends at Akzo Nobel want to have a team-building day and think the gardens would be a good project. We love our groups who carve out a couple of hours to come and help us meet our mission of feeding and loving our neighborhood. We couldn’t do our work without them.


And then, it became pretty clear, we’d have to do our work without them. Almost as quickly as we had put the dates in the calendar, everyone was calling us back to cancel. We had no volunteers, just as we were coming up on garden planting season. No volunteers and no plan on how to close the gap.


That week Mike called. Mike is the go-between for our organization and his congregation in Birmingham. We’d been scheduled to talk to a small group there about coming out to help with our summer kids camp, but the order had just come down, no meetings in the church building. Mike was calling to cancel. We talked for a bit, daydreaming that this would all “be over in a couple of weeks.”


“In the meantime, do you guys need a hand with anything?” he asked. Mike is a retired Chrysler executive. He lives in Birmingham with his adult son and isn’t much for sitting around. He came to Sprout once to help pack produce bags and was hooked ever since. He has volunteered at least four days a week since mid-March working in our produce store, our gardens, and on any other project, we throw at him.


Kathy is in her sixties. She also called us very close to the beginning of the COVID outbreak expressing to us that she “just can’t sit around and do nothing.” She came to help at one of our produce distributions alongside some of our team and Mike the volunteer. Since mid-March, she also has been at Micah 6 four or five days a week, handing out food, weeding beds, or helping us with odd projects.


Kathy has the added bonus of bringing her four-year-old grandson, Nathan. He isn’t much for gardening, but always has a new addition to his Hot Wheels collection to show off. This past week, he and I had a Nerf gun battle in our garden, dodging darts behind our six-foot-tall corn stalks.


One day, as we were building produce boxes for our neighbors to come to take, a gentleman walked through the back door of our store. He spoke good English and told us he was from China. We introduced ourselves. He said his name was too complicated for us to say, instead of introducing himself as JK.


JK told us about his life, emigrating to the United States several years ago to attend school, renting a small place in the neighborhood, his devolution to the teachings of several spiritual leaders, and the drive to give back, which led him to our door. JK has been part of our weekly delivery team, taking boxes of food the shut-ins that we deliver to and their families. Many mornings lately, JK has gotten to the garden before any of the rest of us and is often watering when we arrive. He likes the food boxes but often talks about the calming feeling he has when he is in the garden and feels connected to the earth.


We haven’t had big groups this year. But, what we have had might be better: a small family. Each day we work in the garden together. Mike talks about his days driving his Dodge Viper across the country, explaining his personal love for the song “America” by Simon and Garfunkel. Kathy talks about the joy she had of finally seeing all of her family on an up north camping trip. Nathan runs around making car sounds and driving his toy jeep down any flat surface he can find. JK is there talking about his family, China, and new life. We’ve worked together, almost every day for five months now.


Do I miss big groups? Sure. They get a lot done in a short amount of time. Would I trade the volunteers I have for a bigger group? Not a chance.

Bethany Yoakum is a member and founder of the nonprofit Micah 6 Community of Pontiac. Stay tuned for her next entry in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.
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