Charvi Goyal, 17, volunteers as an online math tutor. She holds a session with a junior high student in January 2021 in Plano, Texas. (AP/LM Otero)

Charvi Goyal, 17, volunteers as an online math tutor. She holds a session with a junior high student in January 2021 in Plano, Texas. (AP/LM Otero)

Students work in a garden at Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco, California, in March 2022. (AP/Jeff Chiu)

Students work in a garden at Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco, California, in March 2022. (AP/Jeff Chiu)

A high school senior, kneeling, gives gardening instructions to other students. (AP/Jeff Chiu)

A high school senior, kneeling, gives gardening instructions to other students. (AP/Jeff Chiu)

Pierre Smit, right, and Lick-Wilmerding High School sophomores hold signs for oncoming traffic at a Slow Down on Ocean Ave event in San Francisco. (AP/Jeff Chiu)

Pierre Smit, right, and Lick-Wilmerding High School sophomores hold signs for oncoming traffic at a Slow Down on Ocean Ave event in San Francisco. (AP/Jeff Chiu)

Phoenix College student volunteers Peniella Irakoze, left, and Edgar Gonzales, right, help load donated Thanksgiving meals into vehicles on November 24, 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)

Phoenix College student volunteers Peniella Irakoze, left, and Edgar Gonzales, right, help load donated Thanksgiving meals into vehicles on November 24, 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)

Volunteering Goes “Kerplunk”

Posted: May 1, 2022

Serving soup. Cleaning up garbage. Visiting the elderly. What happens when the volunteers who normally do those jobs just don’t?

People found out during the coronavirus pandemic. Schools first shut two years ago. Many student volunteer programs temporarily stopped too.

Some schools ask kids to volunteer for a certain number of hours. Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has those requirements. Kids in 11th grade must volunteer for 40 hours. But they can’t do just anything. They must spend time with the people they help.

Packing boxes at a food bank warehouse doesn’t count. But serving meals in a soup kitchen does. Face-to-face helping can teach good life lessons. Kids can learn to have empathy for people who are suffering.

But what happens when “direct contact” isn’t allowed? During COVID-19, volunteers weren’t allowed to get close with the people they normally help. Kids couldn’t work in homeless shelters. Nursing home visits stopped. And social distancing meant fewer volunteers could fit into one space (such as a foodbank).

“Everything just went kerplunk,” says Kimberlyn Denson. She’s a 9th-grade teacher at another Louisiana school. “Suddenly there was nothing out there for them to safely do.”

This came at a cost to communities. Thousands of volunteer hours vanished. This happened just when people affected by COVID-19 needed help most.

So plans changed. Teachers told kids: Volunteer without direct contact. Some kids gathered canned goods and socks for homeless shelters. Others cleaned up outdoors.

One student even transcribed (wrote out) old documents for the Smithsonian Institution. Would a student have done that before? Probably not. Kids got creative. They thought of new ways to help. Even “volunteer kerplunk” has a silver lining.

Why? God uses people to help others in need. During the pandemic, volunteers had to get creative to stay useful!