Ilona Metell: “You can always help the person next door”

Volunteering is an easy choice for Islander Ilona Metell, and the work she and countless others do helps build the support network on Martha’s Vineyard.

The value of volunteering was instilled in Metell at a young age while growing up here. When she was just a little girl, she accompanied her grandmother to her kitchen, where the two prepared meals for the residents and staff of Island Elderly Housing.

These experiences shaped her passion to help others and inspired her to make it the work of her life.

At 22, Metell left the winery and moved to Boston, where she found a community of like-minded people who wanted to help in any way they could. “We would make sandwiches and go down to the Common to distribute them to anyone who was hungry,” Metell told The Times.

She recalled her group’s social and political volunteering, such as showing up at the women’s clinic and forming a line to protect patients entering and leaving the facility from aggressive protesters. “We really did a bit of everything, but it was often something related to food insecurity,” said Metell. “I used to keep church members who had no money to pay, or I did so in exchange for church donations. “

Metell volunteered with a faith-based organization again while living in Connecticut, near her mother. She joined an interfaith ministry that ran a furniture bank, where people who had just obtained an apartment and could not afford furniture could come and receive support.

“It was a really cool thing – if we could do it here it would be amazing,” said Metell.

She also volunteered for the AIDS Action Committee when it started and worked for three years with the Boston to New York AIDS Drive.

When she finally returned to her native island, she settled in Cape Town, where there was an AIDS Action Committee group that looked after everything from news mailing lists to dances and events. pride events.

Metell eventually returned to the vineyard and had some free time, so she signed up with the Red Cross. Being a member of the Red Cross gave her access to a wealth of information about volunteering and the level of need on the island. She took as many courses as she could: social assistance and drug addiction rehabilitation, as well as homelessness and emergency shelters.

She then became a member of the local shelter program and the disaster response team.

“So if there is a house fire and people are displaced and have nowhere to go, we give them financial assistance,” said Metell. “But we could also help them get into a hotel while running to the drugstore to pick up their meds or stopping at Chicken Alley to buy them emergency clothes.”

Once she found her place in Serving Hands, a food access program provided by the Vineyard Committee on Hunger, Metell knew she had found her calling.

She said she was blown away by the passion and consistency of the people involved in the program, some of whom made it their mission to help others.

“We make the food baskets for the family 2 family vacation, and this is the best volunteer group you have ever seen in your life, just unwrap the food, pack it in bags individual and distribute it throughout the island, ”said Metell.

Metell certainly wears many hats in the Island volunteer world, but there are several reasons why this kind of work meets his needs as an individual so well. In addition to being resolutely dedicated to helping others, Metell has health issues that require her to have a flexible schedule, so part-time volunteering meets those needs.

“Of course, that’s the only thing that makes me really happy, and I haven’t found a job yet that matches both my physical needs and my scale of happiness – the best thing about volunteering.” is that I don’t have to point or point, ”Metell said. “I can get away if I need to, but I don’t have to lose sleep because someone else can’t eat or doesn’t have a place to sleep. “

One of the main reasons volunteering is so enjoyable for Metell is the dedicated people who work alongside him. She said she is constantly impressed with the support network available at the vineyard. “If I need to find someone a pair of shoes, I call Kristy Brooks at the Unitarian Universalist Society, and she calls the people she knows in the religious community, and there are so many examples. of these incredible connections, ”said Metell. .

For Metell, the ability to help others when they need it is a blessing, because once those people are back on their feet they can return the favor.

Sometimes someone will be embarrassed to accept free food, a warm bed, or free clothes, but for Metell what goes around comes around. “Sometimes people feel bad for accepting help. But I always tell them, ‘You know what, this is temporary. When you get to a better place, you can come and give us a hand, ”she said.

Metell wants anyone interested in volunteering to contact a number of organizations here and get involved, as the need is always there.

But even if you don’t want to sign up for a food program, shelter program, or whatever, you can still look across the street to your neighbor and see if they are in need.

“We really need people to help us, anywhere, anytime. And that doesn’t necessarily have to go through an organization. If you live next to someone who can’t mow their lawn because they’re old, you can go and mow their lawn, ”said Metell. “It’s good to remember that you can always help the person next door whenever you want. “

There are many opportunities for those who wish to volunteer on the vineyard. Head toward to get involved with the Island Food Equity Network, or visit for more information on the many food access programs available.

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