The heart of a volunteer: Why giving back is more important now than ever

By Gretchen Haggerty, co-chair of United Way’s Volunteer Committee

They say that nothing is stronger than the heart of a volunteer. As we all continue to navigate a new normal imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been an inspiring, heartfelt response from people throughout our region who want to lend a hand.

From seniors who can’t leave their homes to get food and other supplies, to families who have lost income as a result of closures and cancellations, the impact of this ongoing crisis is hurting countless people across southwestern Pennsylvania. But overshadowing the pain and anxiety are the corporate partners, nonprofit agencies and volunteers who are stepping up to provide comfort and relief to the most vulnerable among us.

Since this crisis began, United Way has been at the forefront of connecting the community with opportunities to give back to assist those in need. And the response has been overwhelming. We’re seeing an influx of compassionate individuals, as well as corporate partners and local businesses, who are raising their hands to help.

Organizations on the front lines need our support.

United Way’s agency partners are essential to helping us meet the urgent needs of our community. In these challenging times, we’re partnering with thousands of local organizations to help provide critical resources to people who need them. Our partners are always in need of volunteers, but as the situation evolves, agencies are continuing to assess ways to best support those who are struggling while also ensuring the safety of everyone involved.

Volunteering is critical now more than ever, but it has to be done safely.

Volunteering is essential to United Way and our agency partners. But in a time when social distancing has become a necessity, it’s crucial that the proper steps are taken to keep everyone safe. Here are some important actions for volunteers to take when they offer to help:

1. Wash your hands frequently. It’s important for you to wash your hands before, during and after you volunteer for your own safety and for the safety of those you are helping.

2. Maintain a safe social distance. If you’re bringing groceries or other supplies to a family or organization, be sure to practice social distancing by staying at least six feet apart from others. To avoid physical contact, text the person you’re delivering to in advance to say that you’re coming, or ring the doorbell and move away from the door when you make the delivery.

3. Avoid large groups. We encourage volunteers to seek opportunities that are limited in size to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. But if you’re committed to volunteering with others, look for a group of 10 or fewer people.

4. Stay home if you’re sick. We can’t stress enough the need to stay home if you’re not feeling well. It’s important that, whether you’re volunteering or not, to adhere to expert advice and get well before leaving your home. That simple gesture can help save lives.

There are plenty of ways to help.

Organizations across southwestern Pennsylvania are looking for support to ensure they can continue serving the community during this crisis. Whether it’s packing emergency food boxes for local food banks or delivering food to homebound seniors, opportunities are available across our region for anyone who feels a tug on their volunteer heartstrings. Virtual volunteering is also available for those who want to help from the safety of their homes.

To see the most current list of opportunities, please visit

You can also consider making a donation to the Emergency Action Fund or United Way’s Emergency Basic Needs Fund at Your generous gift will help emergency service providers and nonprofits that are facing this crisis head on.