Joe Uddeme Discusses Volunteering through “Bunches of Lunches”


For Joe Uddeme, a Pikesville High Alum and member of Jewish Baltimore, being able to give directly to the community is vital.

“If you look around the world, you know that people need help everywhere – in Europe. In Africa. In the United States,” says Joe. “People in our own backyard need help. If we can help those people, it’s my belief that communities will start to prosper and when that happens, things start to grow.”

Joe sees volunteerism as a way to impact a community directly, sometimes in ways that financial contributions cannot. It’s something he has been doing for the past 20 years, and it’s what led him to the Bunches of Lunches Program, a meal delivery program that began as a partnership between Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC) and Krieger Schechter Day School (KSDS). Today, it now includes Beth El Congregation, which became a partner when the program became community-wide on April 27.

Joe became involved in the program last year when he moved into the new role as parent liaison at KSDS. Since then, he says KSDS and JVC have invited other organizations to partner each month.

“We’ve really seen an increase in engagement,” says Joe. “Last year we had about 70% of engagement of parents who were enrolled in our schools, and now, since the program has gone community-wide, that has gone up to about 80%.”

This, in addition to the volunteers that JVC helps connect to various programs like Bunches of Lunches, means that more meals are being delivered than ever before.

The program’s last drop off, which occurred on May 11, delivered more than 900 meals to various organizations around Baltimore. And, earlier in April when many people were feeling the impact of shelter-in-place orders and job insecurity, Bunches of Lunches delivered more than 1,800 meals to those in need.

“We serve a wide range of people,” explains Joe. “Part of that is thanks to JVC and their connections to the many nonprofit organizations around town.”

Joe explains that he and the other volunteers, especially those who handle the delivery of the meals, have not been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and have all taken proper precautions on drop-off day.

“We all wear masks and gloves and make sure to keep our distance,” he explains. “Many of the bagged lunches are placed directly in plastic bins, and we then use those bins to bring the lunches to the organizations.”

Part of Bunches of Lunches’ success may come from its simplicity and low barrier to entry.

“It’s really easy to go through what food you have and see that it goes somewhere where it’s needed.”

Joe suggests it’s also because, especially recently, people are stuck at home and would like to find ways they can help their community, even when their previous volunteerism may have been put on hold due to the pandemic.

“When it comes to volunteering,” says Joe “I think you need to set out with small goals for yourself, and don’t overextend. And that’s the great part about the program. It’s very easy to do and it still has a big impact – it helps people get to their next meal, especially in these difficult times.”

And, as for adding a personal touch, Joe suggested a few items he thinks could go a long way.

“Napkin, for one, would be really nice if people are able to spare them. But also, a nice note can be impactful. We’ve seen many people leave encouraging messages in the lunches, and I think an act like that can do a lot of good for the people receiving those lunches.”

Joe also had one last thing piece of advice regarding volunteering, which is important now more than ever during these times.

“If every person did one good deed, once a month – that kindness begins to spread. It’s very powerful and people begin to really feel that kindness.”

Want to Participate?

Bunches of Lunches is currently doing drop-offs every week during the month of May. June dates are coming soon.

For more information on these dates, and future dates, please visit JVC’s Bunches of Lunches page.

If you’re interested in volunteering, whether through Bunches of Lunches or a different program, please visit jvcbaltimore.org/covid19.

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