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Unemployed turn to volunteerism during tough times

NORCROSS - David Talford had been unemployed for about two months when he began volunteering at the Norcross Cooperative Ministry.

"I was spending a lot of time on the Internet looking for jobs and not receiving any type of feedback," Talford said. "I just felt like I needed to do something to take the focus off of myself and my problems."

Talford, 54, was a manager at Bank of America before being laid off eight months ago. Despite submitting application after application, he said he couldn't find a job. When his church began asking members of the congregation to volunteer with the local cooperative ministry, Talford found a new use for his time.

"I couldn't just sit around the house and wait for the phone to ring," he said. "I felt like (volunteering) would give me a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging."

The Lawrenceville resident spends a portion of his Mondays and Fridays at the Norcross Cooperative Ministry, which provides food, financial aid and counseling to individuals and families in need. Talford reviews clients' files for accuracy, updates information, identifies clients' needs and prays with those he assists.

Like Talford, Lawrenceville resident Keri McDaniel didn't begin volunteering at the co-op until she was laid off from her job training retailers to use their surveillance cameras. When a friend suggested she volunteer, McDaniel agreed.

"It was the best thing for me," said McDaniel, who took a part-time job last week until she can secure full-time employment. "It has been absolutely a blessing because when you get unemployed, lose your job, it's so heartbreaking. Just to fill it with something as good as volunteering is absolutely wonderful. It's been therapy for me."

The 48-year-old works in the cooperative's clothing closet, distributing clothes to those in need, on Wednesdays and Fridays.

"We have several volunteers now who are unemployed and are volunteering a lot of their time, which is critical for us," said Shirley Cabe, director of the Norcross Cooperative Ministry. "We are serving more people now and our need for volunteers has increased."

Karel Vanderlinden spends Monday mornings volunteering as a translator at the co-op, assisting Spanish-speaking clients.

The Duluth resident speaks four languages - English, Spanish, Dutch and Papiamento, the native language of Aruba - and has a background in finance, specifically commercial and general aviation and fueling. The 50-year-old was the corporate controller for a major fuel business when the company he worked for was bought out, locations were combined and in August, he found himself without a job and six months' severance pay.

"Basically, they didn't have a position for me," Vanderlinden said. "I lost my job and said, 'Maybe there is something I can do in the meantime.' And then I started (volunteering)."

After visiting the Norcross Cooperative Ministry with his sons on a school trip, Vanderlinden learned the organization was in need of volunteer translators.

"We appreciate them spending the free time they have now giving back to the community," Cabe said of Vanderlinden and other volunteers at the co-op who are unemployed.

Vanderlinden and Talford are looking for jobs, and Talford has received assistance in his search from the Norcross Cooperative Ministry.

"They were instrumental in getting me interviews and job leads," Talford said.

This assistance is something the co-op offers its volunteers.

"We keep our ears open and have some connections with the Department of Labor," Cabe said. "We try to do what we can to send job leads, networking and connections their way, too. It's sort of a give and take."