Caroline Degnan has been volunteering for the past 17 years at the South Buffalo Pantry of Catholic Charities. This week, she was selected as one of 10 finalists for Catholics Charities USA's Volunteer of the Year award.
"I can't believe they picked me as a finalist," said Degnan, a great-great grandmother. "I knew I was in the running, but this is a great surprise."
Each year, Catholic Charities USA recognizes a volunteer of the year from its member organizations around the country. This year, Catholic Charities of Buffalo nominated Degnan for the national award.
On Tuesday, the local agency surprised the South Buffalo resident with a bouquet of spring flowers and a framed certificate of recognition for being one of the finalists.
"This is great," said Degnan, who started volunteering for Catholic Charities when her husband became ill. He died seven years ago, but Degnan still remembers that Catholic Charities gave her a helping hand through the difficult times.
"Catholic Charities helped me a great deal, and I wanted to give back" she said.
Degnan has contributed more than 6,200 hours of volunteer time in the last five years. She is a volunteer coordinator and oversees operations at the food pantry, which serves 5,300 families annually.
In addition, she coordinates the intake of donations from South Buffalo's annual mail carrier drive in May, and she manages the children's Christmas gift distribution at the pantry. Last year, the pantry provided food and gifts for 700 families.
"Well, to start with, she's a grass roots person, who relates to people at their own level," said Sister Dorothy DeMaria. "She's a fantastic listener. She has a quality of listening to you as if you're the only person."
"Volunteers as special as Caroline generously give their love and talents every day in communities across the country," said Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. "They offer help, comfort, and hope without seeking anything in return, and their work exemplifies the church's values of love, caring, and goodwill."
The national Volunteer of the Year Award will be announced next month.