New in the US, Salvation Army volunteer fulfills self by helping others
Karen Clark finds her ‘loose ends’ resolved at the Monterey Peninsula Corps.
Karen Clark needed something to do. It was October 2020—not an easy time to find opportunities amid the burgeoning COVID pandemic. Clark and her husband had just arrived in Monterey, California, temporarily leaving their home in Ontario, Canada. Her husband, recently retired after 30 years with Toyota Canada, had accepted a three-year employment opportunity with Toyota North America.
“It was difficult at first because we were dealing with COVID,” Clark said. “Nothing was open. I was at loose ends, because I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have volunteer work. I didn’t have anything going on. I was very lonely.”
She began checking out volunteer opportunities and ran across The Salvation Army—it was still up and running. In fact, like every other Salvation Army unit during the pandemic, the Monterey Peninsula Corps was busier than ever working to meet people’s increasing needs during the pandemic.
Clark started volunteering two days a week in the corps’ kitchen, working with Coco Abrams, the kitchen supervisor. Today she is still there, Tuesdays and Thursdays, helping prepare meals, cleaning up and stocking shelves.
“I grew up on a farm and hard work is natural for me,” she said. “Coco and I—we have a lot of fun, actually. She plans what we’re going to make. And then I prepare the salad or something else, and I do a lot of dishes, which is fine.”
Five days a week, the corps prepares meals for transport to two locations. The Salvation Army’s Good Samaritan Center receives and serves 50 meals and about 25–30 go to an outdoor parking lot along Monterey’s recreational trail where unhoused individuals can pick up the meals.
“We know what a vital service Karen provides to Coco,” said Major Judy Bennett, Monterey Peninsula Corps Officer with her husband, John. “She’s Coco’s right-hand-man two days a week, helping with food prep all the way through clean-up. Because she is so dependable, Coco is able to rely on Karen not only for the days she volunteers with us each week, but when Coco asks Karen to help her when special meals are prepared outside of Karen’s normal schedule, she’s often able to assist.”
Giving back to the community runs in Clark’s family. She recalled her father participating in The Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle Campaign in Ontario.
“This was before they allowed the kettles inside the store,” she said. “He would stand outside in the bitter cold and the snow, and he rang the bell. I found it interesting, because I don’t know how my dad got involved with The Salvation Army. He was a dairy farmer,” she said.
However it happened, his desire to give back was imprinted on his children. Today, Clark’s brother also continues the tradition, volunteering at the kettles every year.
Clark began volunteering when she was about 12 years old. She worked with her mother at a shop located in her grandmother’s retirement home. Years later, she would again volunteer with older adults.
“I really enjoy seniors. I did a lot of work with seniors in Canada,” she said. “I ran weekly bingo games and helped take the residents on outings.”
After high school, Clark attended college and trained to be a correctional officer; she worked in institutions with young offenders. When she married and had a family—she has two daughters—she wanted a more regular schedule, so for some time she worked part-time in the Canadian government, in a local office addressing constituents’ concerns. About five years ago, when the person she worked for didn’t seek reelection, she returned to her earlier passion.
“I started my own little business in Canada, where I would go into seniors’ homes and I’d help them go shopping and take them for appointments, giving them the chance to stay in their home,” she said. They just needed a bit of help…Then all of a sudden, my husband had this opportunity to come to California after he retired.”
She couldn’t imagine her life today without volunteering.
“It makes a huge difference—you’re giving of yourself and making a difference in someone’s life,” she said. “That meal I helped prepare…it might be the only food someone has that day. When I leave at the end of the day, I am tired, and I feel that I have been useful. I am thankful for the opportunity to be part of The Salvation Army, ‘Doing the Most Good.’”
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