What is the value of an Employee Volunteer Program?

Group photo luncA week ago, our company went to volunteer at the Preble Street soup kitchen, as part of our Employee Volunteer Program. Our company chose two days a year to volunteer as a group, in addition to a few days each year in which employees may volunteer in their individual pursuits. The group volunteer days include the American Heart Association’s “Eat Healthy Day” and “Earth Day.” These days were chosen because they are in alignment with our company’s organizational values and areas of special focus. Serving others nutritious food on “Eat Healthy Day” was a perfect fit, and choosing to volunteer at Preble Street was an easy choice!

Mary and T ShirtThe soup kitchen serves over 550,000 meals a year, and it is only a tiny fraction of Preble Street’s services. Prior to our volunteer day, we invited the volunteer coordinator at Preble Street to come speak at our monthly company meeting. Everyone was greatly impressed when they learned about all of the different services the organization offers.

There were many preparations for our big day. As the day approached, and interest grew, there were more and more people who signed up to volunteer. Employees tie-dyed company shirts to wear (and even the tie-dye skeptics had a great time!) Employees planned shuttles so they could ride together in groups, and those who had volunteered at Preble Street previously shared their experiences with others. We also collected items for donation to bring with us.

Group photWhen the day finally arrived, volunteers sported their one-of-a-kind tie dye shirt. Each person was assigned a task, such as cooking 100 pounds of breakfast potatoes or serving pancakes to literally hundreds of people. The volunteer coordination effort was incredible—everyone had a job to do.

So, back to my original question, what is the value of an Employee Volunteer Program?

Gerard and his potatesThere are studies that support some health and well-being benefits of volunteering. It is beneficial for mental health, as it makes people feel more socially connected and wards off loneliness and depression.  In addition, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that it is even beneficial for physical health—people who volunteer regularly are less likely to develop high blood pressure. This should come as no surprise though. All of our volunteers worked hard, smiled prolifically, and focused their mental energy on an altruistic activity. Even if there were no studies to back it up, the benefits seem self-evident.

Besides the health and well-being benefits, there were significant team-building ones as well. Coworkers learned more about each other. They laughed together, they problem-solved together, and they saw entire projects (breakfast, lunch, and a large mailing) completed from beginning to end together. As a company, we were able to reach out to the community, the value of which is priceless.

A wise man once said, “Part of my job, part of being alive, is making sure that other people are, too.” The man was Joe Kreisler, the founder of Preble Street. It was an honor to be part of his vision that day.

Group food making lunch 2

Steve Woods, our President/CEO, recently interviewed Mark Swann, Executive Director of Preble Street, on his radio show. Even if you are not from the Portland area it’s worth learning more about Preble Street and the great work it does.

Do you offer an employee volunteer program at your company?