From the Field

Volunteering helps a West Virginia widow heal

World Vision relies on volunteers like Tammy Wells to help ready donations to distribute to the most vulnerable in the United States.

Tammy Wells’ husband, Bruce, retired from his job with PepsiCo when he turned 65 in October 2020. He and Tammy had plans to travel from their home in Elkins, West Virginia, the following spring so they could see their grandchildren.

Bruce stayed healthy despite a job in sales, which required him to work around people in the middle of a global pandemic. But just 35 days after he retired, COVID-19 hit him.

“He was never sick a day in his life,” says Tammy. “He was so afraid of me getting it and passing away.” Tammy lives with diabetes and also suffered a stroke three years ago.

After 40 years together, in December 2020, Tammy lost Bruce. She couldn’t even say goodbye to him because she had contracted the disease too. The last time she saw him was when she dropped him off at the hospital’s emergency room.

A way to cope

She struggled with a grief that threatened to overwhelm her. “I’m just having a hard time dealing with the loss of my husband,” she says.

A year after Bruce’s passing, Tammy wanted to do something to help with her struggles. Through her church — Landmark Baptist Church — in Elkins, she heard that World Vision needed volunteers to help in their Storehouses.

Now Tammy makes a 90-minute round-trip drive to Philippi, West Virginia, to the closest World Vision Storehouse. She dedicates herself to volunteering, spending Tuesday mornings at the warehouse.

Big contributions

Tammy and Luella both volunteer at World Vision’s Appalachia Storehouse each week. Volunteers range from retirees to schoolchildren.
Volunteers Tammy Wells (blue shirt) and Luella Saffle sort and pack clothing. “I just want to give back,” says Tammy. “It makes me feel warm inside that I have some kind of part in it.” (©2022 World Vision/photo by Laura Reinhardt)

World Vision engages local volunteers from churches, schools, and corporations. In 2021, more than 1,200 volunteers donated 18,821 hours of their time. They saved World Vision $537,160 in labor costs last year. COVID-19 halted volunteers for most of 2020 and part of 2021, but the need is greater than ever.

In 2021, World Vision U.S. Programs served nearly 12.1 million children and adults and distributed 141,321 pallets of resources. Volunteers play a critical part in preparing those items, which are donated by corporations.

World Vision shares the supplies such as hygiene items, shelf-stable food, school materials, and furniture with churches, community organizations, and schools who then distribute them to the most vulnerable people across the country.

Tammy volunteers mostly boxing up food and household goods, but she does whatever World Vision staff need her to do. She says of the staff, “They’re extraordinary people.”

She’s building community in her weekly visits. “I have met friends, friends that I really needed in my life. It’s a peaceful place to come to,” she says.

Tammy has also recruited some of her long-time friends to come give volunteering at the Storehouse a try.

Her faith helps her find a way through too. “Believing in God, I know that I’m never alone. I may live alone and be alone a lot of the time, but I know He’s got me,” she says.

A connection to something bigger

But she continues to grieve, and volunteering helps her handle that grief. “I get very, very sad. Sometimes life is just hard,” she says. “When you feel the emptiness and loneliness, then you come here, and you feel like you’re doing so much good for people you’ll never meet.”

And, she adds on to that thought, “When you leave here, you’ll leave with a smile knowing that you’ve changed a lot of people’s lives.”

For Tammy, what started as a way to work through her grief has brought friends and a sense of being connected to something much bigger than herself. Giving of her time has given back to her.

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