We are entering the season of giving, giving thanks, giving warmth, giving hope and giving of ourselves to uplift our community. The spirit of keeping the creeping darkness at bay is alive and thriving in our city. There are countless organizations in Worcester filled with people working to make a difference, including Mothers Helping Mothers, Muslim Community Link, Mental Health Collaborative, and Worcester Community Action Council. I have been able to connect with a few community leaders in three organizations in particular to talk to them about some more imminent opportunities.

Molly Pietrantonio has been working with Habitat For Humanity for the past 11 years, 9 of them as a Volunteer Programs Manager. Habitat for Humanity MetroWest/Greater Worcester is part of a global affordable housing non-profit that builds and sells affordable housing to income eligible families in the community.

“We are always looking for people who are willing to donate their time. It’s one of the pillars of the work that we do.” Habitat for Humanity builds affordable houses for qualifying families. “We are actively building two units of affordable housing at 521 & 523 Sunderland Road, Worcester. These homes are on two 7,000 square foot lots that will be used to build two colonial-style single-family homes with 3 bedrooms and an optional 4th bedroom on the 1st floor, 2 full bathrooms and full basement containing 1560 square feet. Located in an accessible area for shopping, schools, parks, and highways, the homes will provide safe, affordable, and decent housing for two local families who will build strength, stability, and self-reliance. We are building Wednesday-Saturday from 8:30AM-4PM.” 

Habitat For Humanity is famously one of the most accessible volunteer options for anyone interested in giving back while re-upping their Vitamin B stores. “Literally there is no experience required. We have our own staff that is construction certified. The only requirements are a positive attitude and a willingness to try something new. Well that and a 45-minute virtual orientation with me. But that’s usually a cinch.” 

Of course it’s not all construction and physical exertion. For anyone less inclined towards the outdoors, Habitat for Humanity also has their ReStore Retail Alternative. “We have our retail outlet called ‘Restore’ (640 Lincoln St.) and a store manager, an assistant manager, 3 part time employees and a whole host of volunteers run it. ReStore is Habitat’s open to the public retail outlet that sells donated new and gently used home furnishings and building materials! The proceeds from all items sold at ReStore go to funding Habitat’s home build mission. The Habitat for Humanity MetroWest/Greater Worcester ReStore generates enough funds to build a home a year, while also keeping over 700 tons of useable materials out of local landfills! Tasks will consist of donations processing, customer service and sales floor merchandizing. From cleaning, testing, and pricing donations, to answering customer questions, volunteers help us do it all! The store is open Tuesday-Saturday 9:30-5 and is always happy to have an extra set of hands during business hours.” 

While we gear up for a long winter here in New England, kicking it off as we do with our various food-oriented winter feasts, it is important to remember the ways in which not everyone has the same luxuries. The deep injustice of food insecurity in our society is even harder to tune out during the season of indulgence. Anyone interested in righting that wrong even a little bit at a time can lend a hand to a wonderful local organization known as Rachel’s Table. Since 1989, Rachel’s Table has been consistently striving to put food on the tables that need it the most. I spoke with Alissa Schimmel, current director and volunteer coordinator for Rachel’s table about what it might take to volunteer with them.

Rachel’s Table

“Rachel’s Table, (a project of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts) has a mission to end hunger in Worcester and to prevent the waste of nutritious food. I know that may sound lofty but we believe it’s attainable and we don’t mind approximating as best we can. We have groups donating to us and we are responsible for distributing it to agencies and shelters that feed those who are food insecure here in Worcester. We have been doing this work for decades, even before I think a lot of our society was aware of the scope of the problem. We were founded in 1989 so we were really one of the pioneers of this movement, at least locally.” 

Schimmel joined the small three-person team in May of this year. “I took over from two women who had been here for 25 executive director and program coordinator who coordinated all the volunteers 34 years. They both retired in June. They were really amazing and had done this work for a long time. So I am doing my very best and I know that I have huge shoes to fill. My role is a combination of both of their roles so I’m somewhere between an executive director and a volunteer coordinator.” The team of paid workers for Rachel’s Table is almost unimaginably small. “I have an office assistant, and a bookkeeper.” The real meat of the organization is its impressive scope of volunteers: “ We have 75 volunteers who really are volunteer run. They do all the work the rescuing of he food and delivering it to different shelters. Volunteer dispatchers who retrieve messages from our food donations hotline. And volunteer delivery drivers who then take these orders and deliver them wherever they need to go. We are partnered up with many local businesses, including grocery stores, restaurants, farms etc. We even have people who will cook the food for our shelters. It’s really a labor of love and kindness.”

There are many ways to participate in Rachel’s Table’s mission. “We are so flexible and we have volunteers that volunteer once a month or every single week. We have volunteers who want to be listed as backup or emergency drivers only so they only take shifts every once in a while. We have volunteers who work seasonally, only summers or only winters. The main requirement is that if you’re driving for us, you need to have a working and insured vehicle as well as a current driver’s license. And if you own a business and want to partner with us, you can always call and set up a plan with me.” For more information on Rachel’s Table you can visit or simply email Alissa Schimmel at or @rachelstable_worcester on Instagram & Facebook.

Another local community organization that always opens its doors to volunteers is the Jewish Community Center (661 Salisbury Street). I spoke with Andrea Sullivan, the deputy director of the JCC. “I oversee the membership department, fundraising, safety and security, marketing and general day to day operations. In this role for a year and a half, but I’ve been with the JCC for about 5 years, so I’ve been around long enough to know that we really rely on volunteers for our bigger events.” 

Every year the JCC hosts two big events that draw in a lot of community and volunteers:  ‘Good Deeds Day/Earth Day” celebration and the “Touch-A-Truck” community event in May. “ Good deeds day/earth day is one of my favorites. I love that event. It really makes me feel like we are reaching into our community and making things better. The event involves a variety of projects, including things like making comfort blankets, and food kits for those who are homebound or have low mobility. We partner up with other nonprofits like Beth Israel, Jewish Healthcare, whoever is willing to support us and it’s just such a great event. We always end up relying so much on our wonderful volunteers, and it really connects with the community. That’s what it’s all about, giving back and connection.” For more information head over to or reach out on instagram @jccworcester

Rachel’s Table is hardly the only organization working towards bridging the gap on food insecurity in town. The soup kitchen known as Mustard Seed Catholic Worker has been operational for 51 years. Nicole Apostola has been involved with the Mustard Seed for about 8 of those years. “We run the soup kitchen every weekday M-F and serve meals to people who need it. We serve about 100 meals a day. On Tuesdays we have a food pantry available as well. We are fortunate enough to get donations from many individual donors, and local forms as well as the Worcester County Food Bank.”  Mealtimes usually run between 5:00-6:30 so volunteers can come in 4:45 to help set up and serve or at 5:45 to help clean up. “Really any time that people are able to give is extremely helpful. Even coming in for a half hour to help clean up is huge. We often have our volunteer serve coffee to people while the food is being set up and prepared.” Local churches, including First Baptist, Christ The King, and Blessed Sacrament, prepare meals. Whatever time commitment is possible, the message from Mustard Seed is simple: “ I think everyone we are seeing an increasing need of people both who are looking for a meal and who are looking for food to take home. I think there are more people in need now than in memory which is a long time, and that you know we are sort of in some ways at a soup kitchen the canary in the coal mine for larger things that are happening in our society. For us especially there’s been a lot more demands on the food pantry side. This is a harbinger of where we may be headed.” 

It is easy enough to talk about wanting to help your community and admirable even to join the effort of already existing organizations. However, Michelle McClain went even further than that. McClain is the founder, and executive director and pretty much the one woman show behind Mothers Helping Mothers. 

Donations from Mothers Helping Mothers

“We help moms get resources and we refer them to places DTA and social security we help them with monthly toiletry items, toiletries. We help dads too and I want to find resources. I work as a case manager for another company. They can come in and job searching. We will be doing some holiday toy drives and coat drives.” McClain works as a case manager in her other capacity but she transfers the skills right over to her passion for volunteerism. It is easy enough to pitch in and help McClain’s effort towards equity for families. For one thing, donations are always welcome and go a long way. “We just got our very first grant from Framingham CEG; up until this point, I was paying for everything out of pocket. Even with the grant, there are still a lot of needs. We are always looking for diaper donations, new socks; any kind of toiletry really is in high demand. We also have listings for volunteer on every volunteer resource site out there,, mother’s helper, mother’s Inc. The process is simple, just submit a resume and have a zoom meeting with me. That’s it.” 

Not particularly loquacious, McClain is largely action oriented. After talking with her, there’s no doubt in my mind that Mothers Helping Mothers is exactly that.

However you celebrate or survive the winter months here in our fair city, we encourage you to share whatever wealth you posses with those in need; Be it the wealth of your healthy and capable body, the wealth of your full table, or the always underrated luxury that is spare time. And always, keep the warm light glowing during the dark nights of the year.