Volunteers Key to Orthodox Charitable Success

North Fort Myers, Fla. (September 10, 2002) — The monks serving food to ever-growing numbers of people at the St. Xenia Food Pantry in North Fort Myers, Fla., seem to have a winning recipe, but they continually lack one key ingredient: volunteers.

The monks are not alone. Orthodox social service agencies around the country often work in isolation, in need of volunteers. International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), through its U.S. Program, is working to strengthen collaboration among Orthodox charities like St. Xenia and build the support they receive from the Orthodox public, as well as from other sources both public and private.

“Saint Xenia staffers estimate that they could help twice the number of people if they had the resources,” said Robert Pianka, director of IOCC’s U.S. Program. Pianka noted that many of the volunteers who work with the monks are of other faiths. “While this is tremendous, we seem to be missing an opportunity to engage our own community,” he said.

Currently, the food pantry assists 80 to 110 people a week, serving them hot meals and providing them with clothing, groceries, medical care and referrals. Many of the people helped by St. Xenia are homeless, elderly, young families with children, and people suffering from substance abuse.

But the food pantry, named after a 19th century Russian saint who selflessly helped the poor and homeless in St. Petersburg, has inadequate facilities to meet the ever-growing needs. “We have a hard time trying to find space for the food being received,” said Eva Kamish, administrator.

Affiliated with Holy Theotokos Monastery, the food pantry currently operates two days a week. Ms. Kamish said it could be running five days a week with the right kind of volunteer and fund-raising support.

IOCC’s U.S. Program will work to connect St. Xenia with more supplies, more volunteers and sources of funding, Pianka said. IOCC is currently seeking food donations from a local supermarket chain, as well as support from foundations to help with the pantry’s building and staffing needs.

Publix Super Markets, based in Lakeland, Fla., recently responded to the IOCC initiative by giving $250 in food coupons to St. Xenia.

“This is about helping St. Xenia realize its fuller vision: better facilities, enough staff for the job and better support,” Pianka said.

One of the goals of IOCC’s U.S. Program is to serve as a “help desk” to qualified Orthodox Christian charities. “Saint Xenia is a prime example of an Orthodox institution reaching thousands in its neighboring communities through a food project that also delivers more specialized services to the destitute and homeless,” Pianka said, noting that St. Xenia’s mission dovetails with IOCC’s mission of “sharing God’s gifts of food, shelter, economic self-sufficiency and hope.”

IOCC itself is supported by the work of thousands of volunteers nationally who raise support and awareness for its efforts to provide assistance around the world.

According to Ms. Kamish, the food pantry also needs a walk-in freezer to accommodate the frozen food, a truck to pick up food items, and a new outreach building.

“We have the land,” she said. “We are in dire need of this type of building so that the doctor, nurse and social worker can interview the clients in private.” Pro bono professional services are needed for the planning team for the new outreach building.