Good Neighbors volunteers in overdrive

Barbara Peck, Good Neighbors Shoppe volunteer, works the cash register on her shift.

Good Neighbors Shoppe volunteers have taken on extra responsibilities to keep operations running smooth during the pandemic.

JoAllison Cortez, GNS volunteer coordinator, hasn’t had many issues finding or scheduling volunteers. She trained 34 volunteers in preparation for 2021 and is still receiving applications.

“Though we were closed down for about two months, and actually many of our gals who are current volunteers, many took a break because of COVID, so that left us with some shorts or holes or spaces,” Cortez said. “But what was interesting is that most of the gals that I trained in probably May, June, through the summer, were women who had been volunteering let’s say at the school or at the hospital or at the library, all places that would no longer allow outside people. They were still looking for something to do, and so they became aware of us through various ways like bulletins and maybe word of mouth.”

Two volunteers came to GNS looking for something who had just moved to Tellico Village when most programs shut down. The two found GNS a way to connect with neighbors, Cortez said.

Some volunteers came in to shop and enjoyed the environment enough to ask for an application. Cortez had to assign and train more volunteers to cashier positions to ensure there were enough to fill shifts.

Cortez said she’s had to “go with the flow” with volunteer shifts.

“We very quickly came back to our full day, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., so none of that has changed,” she said. “There were, especially in the backroom gals, we need a certain amount of people here in front, and it’s usually two cashiers and two helpers for bagging and so forth and a front manager. The gals in the back, if someone isn’t coming in that day, that shift, we just adjust for that. But we used to do that anyway because remember all of our volunteers — I don’t know that we have any that are still working to my knowledge, so they’re basically retired, and they travel. They have doctors appointments, those kinds of things.”

When GNS reopened, Cortez was initially afraid there wouldn’t be enough donations. The influx of donations was so great that volunteers came in 4-7 p.m. Sundays just to process the items.

Jean Haupt has volunteered for about eight years. She said GNS is a “wonderful organization.”

“What keeps me coming back is the goal that we have to help the agencies in Loudon County and to see how well we’re doing in that respect and the camaraderie among the volunteers,” Haupt said. “They’re just dedicated. We’re all going for the same goal — helping agencies in Loudon County. … Just striving to make our shop just a better place. We love our customers and some of us are on a first-name basis with them because they keep coming back and some come in every day. It’s just a nice, friendly, terrific place. I can’t think of any better place to volunteer.”

Pat McLaughlin is one of the newer volunteers Cortez trained. She’s been with the organization for six months.

McLaughlin works as a cashier and loves being the person who greets shoppers.

“My favorite part is knowing that we are doing good for the community because we’re all volunteers,” McLaughlin said. “Nobody is paid, and all the money that we make is returned to the Loudon County. We support many organizations that work with those that are in need. That’s the basis of Good Neighbors. I love their mission of helping others that are in need.”

McLaughlin described volunteering at GNS as “a lot of fun” because many of the people who work there are around the same age and have much in common.

She was grateful to find GNS after retiring from 43 years in nursing. One of her main goals after retiring was to find ways to volunteer more and pursue other hobbies. McLaughlin typically works one shift a week at GNS — the minimum requirement for volunteers.

“Now due to COVID, a lot of the elderly population who have been there have said, ‘You know, I just can’t get out there and be able to work because of being open to the public’,” McLaughlin said. “They required more help and things like that, and we are getting more volunteers by people like myself talking to friends. … When there’s a need for workers, they just send out an email, and we all respond. We’re only required to work one day a week, but now in these times, I find myself working two days a week to be able to keep the whole operation of checking out at Good Neighbors a smooth operation. … Even with COVID, we’re able to run the store and things, which everybody is very happy about and seeing all of the donations that come in is just absolutely fabulous.”