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Volunteering in the Midst of a Pandemic

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Lisa McGrail wears a mask and gloves while volunteering for Women Giving Back.

This year, Lisa McGrail, SOC/BA ’93, wished for only one thing on her birthday: that her family would accompany her on a volunteering trip to Women Giving Back (WGB), a Virginia non-profit that has provided more than 35,000 women and children in crisis with clothing since 2016. The few hours the McGrail family spent at WGB that day represent just a small fraction of the more than 350 hours Lisa McGrail has devoted to the organization in the past year. In recognition of her committed efforts to the non-profit, WGB awarded McGrail its Volunteer of the Year award for 2020. 

Lisa McGrail discovered Women Giving Back in 2017 after the passing of her mother-in-law, who left behind a healthy collection of clothes that McGrail wished to donate. After a quick internet search, she came across WGB’s website, reached out to them, and received a tour of the warehouse. McGrail left WGB in tears. “I was so moved by the organization’s mission,” she recalled. McGrail donated her mother-in-law’s clothes and has volunteered ever since. 

Women Giving Back is exclusively women-run and traditionally provides a safe space for women and children to collect up to 55 articles of donated clothing with complete confidentiality. After shutting down operations due to COVID-19 restrictions, WGB has slowly reopened over the past 11 weeks and shifted its focus to distributing food to women in need. “Working at the food line has been really eye-opening,” McGrail said. Everything runs according to social distancing guidelines, with mandatory temperature checks as well as required use of masks and gloves, all for the safety of both volunteers and clients. 

Despite the challenges presented by the past six months, McGrail doesn’t plan to quit anytime soon. A member of the Warehouse Committee, she is heavily involved in maintaining relations with WGB’s more than 200 partner organizations, determining how to accept donations and leading warehouse organization for when it eventually reopens. “I never like to sit still and after two of my kids left for college, I needed something else to do … my husband jokes that I have a helium hand because I volunteer whenever someone asks for something,” McGrail said. With only four paid employees, Women Giving Back runs on volunteer power. Lisa McGrail leads their charge.