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So often, people sign up for volunteer projects with good intentions, only to find that life gets in the way. 

Enter SPUR, a nonprofit serving Lynn, Marblehead, Salem, and Swampscott, that seeks to make volunteering easy and accessible for anyone.

“We remove barriers to volunteering. None of our volunteer opportunities require more than a two-hour time commitment,” says Kim Nothnagel, SPUR’s director of communications and community relations. “With just two exceptions, none of our volunteer opportunities have age restrictions on them. We believe that whether you’re 4 or you’re 94, you have the ability to make a difference in your community. And we don’t require any special skills. If there’s something you need to know how to do, we are right here, alongside you, to teach you how to do it.”

Here’s how it works: SPUR partners with local organizations that need volunteers, such as local shelters, and lists upcoming volunteer opportunities online, allowing volunteers to browse a calendar for available shifts and sign up immediately using the online platform. 

Kim Nothnagel, SPUR’s director of communications and community relations. Photograph by Jared Charney.

“We run and organize all of the opportunities, but we partner with the organizations in our community that are doing good work to make that possible,” Nothnagel says. 

There is a wide array of opportunities, from assembling personal care toiletry kits, to participating in beach and park cleanups, to making dog biscuits for local animal shelters.

According to Nothnagel, as of September 10, 1,248 volunteers had engaged in more than 1,600 volunteer hours so far in 2021.

“There’s all sorts of stuff going on,” she says. “There are always new ways to be involved.”

One of the most critical ways that SPUR mobilizes the volunteer community is by helping to feed their neighbors in need. 

“We work with organizations that are fighting food insecurity here in our community,” Nothnagel says. “At the height of the pandemic, the number of households experiencing food insecurity here in Massachusetts more than doubled.”

SPUR does this in a variety of ways. Its meal service program, which works with local shelters to provide hot, nutritious meals to their clients, is a “great volunteer opportunity for folks that love to cook,” Nothnagel says.

Instead of one person cooking 100 meals, each volunteer prepares 10 meals, “making it a really easy and accessible way to make a positive impact” at places like Lifebridge in Salem and the Recuperative Care Center in Lynn, she says.

Suzanne Hale is SPUR’s chair of meal services and serves on its board of directors. Photograph by Jared Charney.

Suzanne Hale, SPUR’s chair of meal services who also serves on its board of directors, started working with SPUR as a volunteer herself. She says SPUR’s way of making volunteering easy and accessible for everyone was very meaningful to her, especially as a mom.

“Because SPUR offers opportunities to pretty much everyone, regardless of age, I was able to include my kids, which was really important to me,” she says. “As a kid myself, I did some volunteering in soup kitchens, and I was really grateful to find a similar experience that I could share with my kids.”

SPUR also has its own Community Roots Garden at St. Andrew’s Church in Marblehead, where Nothnagel says roughly 95 people volunteer each week for tasks like watering, weeding, harvesting, and delivering the more than 900 pounds of fresh produce it grows each year for people in need. 

“You don’t need any special skills to water the garden,” she notes.

A food rescue program with Shubie’s Marketplace in Marblehead is another hyper-local way that SPUR is helping its partner organizations relieve food insecurity, which general manager Doug Shube calls a “no-brainer.” 

“Our community has been so good to Shubie’s that we really want to make sure that we’re a good partner back to the community,” he says. 

Folks from SPUR pick up unsold items from Shubie’s on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—think leftover pastries, roasted veggies, cooked pasta, prepared foods, sandwiches, and premade salads—for drop-off to its shelter and other partners. Shube estimates that they’ve donated up to 3,000 pounds of rescued food over the years. 

Like all of SPUR’s other opportunities, it’s nearly effortless to get involved. 

“We can build that bridge between people who want to make a difference and the work that needs to be done by making volunteering accessible and easy,” Nothnagel says.