By Michelle Martin
As we celebrate this festive holiday season with family and friends, enjoying the traditions of presents, parties, and elaborate dinners, it is important to remember that the holidays may not hold the same joy and blessings of abundance for others. Many families must rely upon community services for assistance with basic necessities — not only during the holidays but also throughout the year. Community service organizations could not have nearly the positive impact they do without the generosity of volunteers, like Jim and Clem Baker of Woodstock. We hope the Bakers' story will inspire you to experience firsthand the joy of blessing others through the donation of your time, service and riches.
Jim and Clem Baker, who live in Woodstock, have been volunteering with MUST Ministries for several years. "We wanted to help others while we still can, and wanted to do something ongoing locally," Jim says. He works in the food pantry, while Clem interviews families and individuals to assess their immediate needs. Though their volunteer positions are in different areas, they each enjoy interacting with MUST families. "Interviewing gives me a connection to MUST clients and helps me understand their situation," Clem says.
Throughout the years, Jim and Clem have influenced others around them to become involved in volunteer work. Their daughter volunteers with Raintree Children and Family Services, a group home for young girls in New Orleans, where she lives. The Bakers also recruited several of their teenage and adolescent neighbors, including Connor and Alex Smith, to volunteer in the summer lunch and other MUST programs. "Their parents were not sure how the experience would go, but they were already looking forward to going back after that first day," Jim recalls. "Last year, Connor wrote his senior paper about his volunteer work at MUST, describing the benefits that he gained personally by working there."
Jim and Clem have seen MUST evolve in recent years to better meet the ever-increasing needs in the community. For example, information about individual and family needs has gone from being filed on simple index cards to being entered into a central database. The new MUST office in Canton now includes cubicles, which Clem says offer more privacy when interviewing families. But, as Jim explains, food distribution has been scaled back — from 10 pounds to 8 pounds per family member. "Unfortunately, we've had to adjust the amount of food distributed because food donations have decreased, yet the number of families needing assistance has increased."
The Bakers encourage individuals to consider volunteering, whether for the holiday season or throughout the year. "There are many needs for families and especially children during the holiday season," Clem says. "The holiday season reminds us to be thankful for our own blessings, because we see the gratitude of the families who are served through all of the volunteers and staff at MUST Ministries." Jim adds, "Volunteering helps you become connected with your community. We have learned a lot about the needs of the community and realize that we are fortunate to have the resources that we have personally."