Colleen Mealey from Phoenix, Arizona, has dedicated over 20 years of her life to volunteer service. She got her first taste of volunteering through a corporate “Make a Difference Day,” but she became hooked and what started out as a nice hobby quickly turned into a lifelong passion.
Colleen first started out by taking part in various volunteer projects with Hands On Greater Phoenix.
“I did a lot. We would fix breakfast for the people who lived at a shelter for abused women and their children. We painted a boys and girls club, packed food boxes at our local food bank. We’ve planted gardens, built picnic tables, put in buddy benches at different schools over the years. So many different things,” the 66-year-old recalled.
But the love Colleen had for her community inspired her to do more and brought her to Paz De Cristo, an outreach center that provides food, clothes and employment resources for the homeless and others in need.
For the past 16 years, Colleen has helped manage volunteers as they cooked and served hot meals to men, women and families facing food insecurity. She started out as a project leader for a small group of volunteers, but now she helps manage all 20 volunteers on the two nights per month she is assigned.
With her volunteers, Colleen helps prepare and serve hundreds of meals, which include a main course such as pasta or steak, a green salad, bread and butter and a fruit salad. They also serve hot drinks during the winter and have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches ready for the guests to take with them.
Colleen said she loves volunteering with Paz De Cristo because she loves to cook but also because she believes in the organization’s mission to empower those stuck in unfortunate circumstances to become self-sufficient.
“I feel no matter what anybody has done in their life, however they got to where they are, they deserve to eat,” Collen said. “And the people when they come in, they always say, ‘God bless you’ and ‘thank you.’ It really makes you feel good, like you’re really doing something important for somebody.”
While Covid-19 has temporarily halted the free dinners at Paz De Cristo’s dining hall, the organization still found a way to help those most in need by supplying emergency food boxes. And of course, Colleen is helping out with those as well.
“She is always eager to come in… Always fulfilling her responsibilities with excellence,” Priscilla Frias, volunteer coordinator at Paz De Cristo, said. “She’s been so dedicated to the organization for such a long a time. She’s committed and very much a leader.”
After a long career in supply chain for Honeywell, Colleen is now retired, but she said she doesn’t plan on stopping her volunteer work any time soon.
For people who have never volunteered or are just starting out, this volunteer veteran has some advice for you.
“Find something that you really like to do and you’re passionate about and then find a volunteer project that matches that,” Colleen said. “With the people we serve, you see a smile on their face when they leave and you can see that you’ve made a difference.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Colleen Mealey? Find local volunteer opportunities.