Volunteer Fairfax is proud of the impact made by local volunteers during VolunteerFest, held on October 24 and 25th. This community-wide service event developed in partnership with area nonprofits and government agencies saw more than 860 participants working on 23 projects all over Fairfax County. This is a testament to the excellent way in which this event was structured and promoted in the face of a very challenging volunteering climate due to COVID.

Right now, our nonprofit partners are coping with extraordinary demand across every mission area including food and housing insecurity, childcare support, mental health, and homelessness.  To compound matters, COVID 19 has upended the way these nonprofit organizations typically work with volunteers since many cannot currently welcome volunteers into their brick and mortar facilities.  The staff at these organizations are more likely to be dispersed or working from home and strict safety protocols make typical group gatherings problematic.

Our staff worked hard to find appropriate opportunities that served the needs of nonprofit partners and engaged the community in actionable service opportunities.  The result was 22 projects which included 11 in-person opportunities and for the first time, 11 “at-home” projects.  These “at-home” projects allowed volunteers, no matter their location within the County, to safely work their tasks.  There were several limitations and constraints in planning for the typical types of volunteering events due to current COVID-19 restrictions.  We had to ensure that nonprofit and public agencies will provide high safety protocols at in-person projects and limit many of the typical inside opportunities not appropriate during the pandemic.

For the at-home projects, we had to ensure that projects were actionable, supplies readily available, and that outcomes would be consistent and high quality for our partners.  We also wanted to acknowledge equity in volunteering and allow everyone who wanted to volunteer could find a suitable opportunity.  For this reason, we made sure that at-home projects included a range of options from no-cost virtual postcards and low-cost holidays cards for clients, residents, and volunteers working with vulnerable populations to more complex and expensive projects such as Snack Packs for Food for Others, Homeless Survival Kits to support the dignity and independence of homeless people and Fleece Blankets for Veterans in aging care facilities to be used in military honors ceremonies.

The community responded to all these projects with a strong desire to serve!   We had over 800 registrants participate in these projects.   That number is more than double the number of registrants that turned out for last year’s VolunteerFest.  This strong turnout shows us that we are on the right path.  Volunteers are willing to give what they can – their talents, labor, time, and resources to support those in need.  The overwhelming majority of projects were completed at-home this year, we had over 100 volunteers sign-up to make homemade dog treats for Homeward Trails Adoption Center’s dogs and cats in Fairfax Station.  Additionally, more than 100 volunteers made and began delivering homemade Holiday cards for CRi residents living in group homes.  We also saw teens show-up in record numbers to support in-person projects like Storm Drain Labeling, Invasive Plant Management, and Food Distribution for Cornerstones clients.

We have heard feedback from volunteers like  Tomas Torterola, a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School, who worked on hand-sewn face masks and snack packs for preschoolers for Northern Virginia Family Services wrote this to us,  “I wanted to say how much fun I had doing these projects, especially after the monotony of being at home doing school week after week.”  His sentiment and those of others who have reached out to us, echo what we have believed about volunteering – doing good for others supports our own mental health.

We are thankful for the creativity, innovation, and hard work of our nonprofit partners who took a leap of faith that we could, in this extraordinary year pull off a VolunteerFest.   We would also like to thank our Lead Supporter AT&T for their continued support of this event and Volunteer Fairfax as a whole.

We are inspired and thankful to all the volunteers who showed up and tried something new, learned about an organization, and supported the community through their service.   We are honored to be a part of this great community of Fairfax County.

To view more images from VolunteerFest 2020, click here.