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To coincide with national Volunteers’ Week, Caritas Volunteer Service hosted a virtual awards ceremony to recognise and celebrate the work of volunteers across the Diocese of Westminster.

Since March 2020, the work of volunteers has become even more vital as they respond to the extra needs and challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those at the celebration heard numerous examples of volunteers working in solidarity with the people they serve. Thirty individuals and groups were nominated for awards, many of the nominations commending entire teams of volunteers. The range of nominations highlights the breadth of social action projects taking place in the diocese, including befriending the elderly, supporting the unemployed, visiting refugees, running foodbanks, and serving the homeless.

In a recorded message, Cardinal Vincent Nichols addressed the volunteers:

‘One of the golden threads that runs through our Christian faith is that of loving service. St Teresa of Calcutta used to say, “Love as much as you can until it hurts, and then you’ll find there’s much more to give.”. Many people have said there’s more to be had from giving than receiving. It’s a golden thread that inspires and captures the message of Jesus in many ways.

‘I’m very proud of the way parishes, schools, young people, older people, have contributed to the service in our society during these difficult, difficult 12 months or so. I’d like to thank you all, I’d like to thank every single one of you who volunteers and I’d like to thank Caritas for the work they do. Some people come to the service of others because of their faith. They start with the example of Jesus and his command, “Love one another”. Other people start with the need around them, they see someone in need and they want to respond. And, in that way, they begin to walk to pathway of faith. Help is both the fruit of faith and the doorway into faith. And I hope that your volunteering can work in both those ways.’

Bishop Paul McAleenan, who closed the celebration with a prayer, reminded the volunteers of the words of St Paul: 
‘In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”’ (Acts 20:35)

Five awards were given, with all 30 nominated individuals and groups, and all volunteers in the diocese, celebrated. John Coleby, Director of Caritas Westminster, said:

‘The event on Wednesday evening was a celebration of volunteering and service. It has been humbling to see the number of volunteers who stepped forward this past year. It shows how wonderful people are in a crisis and how by coming together we can make a big difference to people who really need our practical help and our friendship. Whether it’s food, clothing, shelter or help with employment or finances, our parishes and schools are helping. They are the “Good Samaritans” helping practically but also providing a voice, friendship and accompaniment to those people while they need it.’

The following organisations and individuals were the winners of the five awards:

School social outreach award (primary): St Philip Howard Primary School, the school community

Since the beginning of lockdown, the school community at St Philip Howard Catholic Primary School in Hatfield has created a foodbank that is available 7am to 7pm for anyone from the school or parish. This project was set up with the principle of dignity for all, with products for their diverse community.

School social outreach award (secondary): Newman Catholic College, Susan Grace

Susan has always been an inspiring leader whose work in the community has benefited hundreds of struggling families. Since the start of lockdown, she has led a team which has created a foodbank to meet the needs of the local community. Her vision of the Common Good has inspired others to serve, with staff and students freely giving up their time, including holidays, to help others.

Caritas Volunteers Service charity partner award: Jesuit Refugee Service UK, emergency response team

The emergency response team was formed soon after the start of the pandemic to help ensure that refugees experiencing destitution were given items to meet their basic needs during lockdowns. They have continued to do so over the course of the past year, distributing 2982 parcels between March 2020 and March 2021.

Building Resilience Award: Refugees Welcome Hounslow, Auntie Muna

Since overcoming personal hardship and adversity, ‘Auntie Muna’ has devoted her life to helping others who live on the margins of society, particularly mothers, children and those seeking asylum, irrespective of their race or faith.

Parish Social Outreach award: Finchley East Foodbank, Anna Maughan and Maureen Stell

Thanks to Maureen and Anna's organisational encouragement, ideas and commitment, the Finchley East Foodbank has grown to support, on average, 400 clients every weekend. They have both been instrumental in developing the foodbank outreach to serve eight times as many clients than before the pandemic.

If you would like to support the work of Caritas Westminster, you can donate here.

If you would like to volunteer with Caritas Volunteer Service, you can find out more about volunteering opportunities in the Diocese of Westminster here.

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