Interfaith Volunteers’ help a godsend for isolated seniors during pandemic

Formerly known as Lakes Area Interfaith Caregivers, Interfaith Volunteers are committed to keeping seniors in Crow Wing County safe and comfortable in their homes, especially those who may feel lonely, disconnected or isolated by the coronavirus pandemic.

J.R. Duncan (left) shops for fruit at Cub Foods Wednesday, Dec. 23, along with Interfaith Volunteer Cyndie Leifermann. She helped the senior shop for groceries after giving him a ride to Brainerd. The organization helps homebound people with things like trips to stores to shop for necessities. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Cyndie Leifermann gave the best gift she could think of to a total stranger this Christmas: her time.

The Interfaith Volunteer does almost whatever is needed to help homebound seniors who may be feeling particularly isolated or disconnected from the outside world because of the pandemic.

“Because it’s needed,” Leifermann said when asked the reason she volunteers with the local nonprofit formerly known as Lakes Area Interfaith Caregivers.


The 77-year-old from Baxter gave J.R. Duncan a lift Wednesday, Dec. 23, to Cub Foods. The Brainerd resident turns 83 in January. He called upon the service group for a ride.

“I’m very happy to receive the assistance — coming out to my home, picking me up and then taking me to wherever I wanted to go or wanted to do. … I had to go to the supermarket and pick up three or four items there, and a couple of items for a friend of mine,” Duncan said.

Interfaith Volunteer Cyndie Leifermann (left) helps senior J.R. Duncan shop at Cub Foods in Baxter Wednesday, Dec. 23. The volunteer and her husband gave Duncan a ride into town to shop for groceries. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Interfaith Volunteers’ mission is to help low-income seniors and persons with disabilities continue to live “comfortable, safe, independent lives in their own home.” It was founded in 2001.

“I assist them in whatever they need. … I load the groceries, I unload the groceries. A lot of times, I take them in and put them in the house,” Leifermann said.


Duncan said: “She was very good. I think it's a great thing for people to get out and to volunteer, especially during this horrible time with this coronavirus going around.”

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Interfaith Volunteers deploys volunteers primarily to assist seniors with building wheelchair ramps and minor home modifications, providing rides for medical appointments and errands, and making companionship visits, serving residents throughout Crow Wing County.

“What do I get out of it? … Oh, my goodness! Let me think about that. I didn’t even think about that — what I get out of it,” said Leifermann, who has been volunteering with Interfaith Volunteers for more than five years. “I guess it’s not what I get out of it, but it’s what I can give.”

The nonprofit’s guiding principle is everyone has a gift, and each person should use their individual talents to “serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

J.R. Duncan (left) shops with Interfaith Volunteer Cyndie Leifermann at Cub Foods in Baxter Wednesday, Dec. 23. Leifermann volunteers with the organization giving rides to homebound seniors. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“We have probably about 200 volunteers working throughout the Brainerd lakes area, and it can fluctuate from season to season,” said Ann Silgen, executive director of Interfaith Volunteers. “We do have quite a few snowbird volunteers who are not here right now.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Interfaith Volunteers expanded its services to offer “phone calling to the lonely, homebound and isolated who may be in need of social contact” in addition to delivering groceries, medications, running errands and more.


“We’ve gotten the question, ‘Are you still working and still operating?’” Silgen said. “The answer is emphatically, yes, we are still operating, and we know the people we serve need us more than ever right now.”

Interfaith Volunteers’ purpose is to encourage involvement by the local faith community through direct participation in implementing solutions to the challenges facing the senior community, particularly those of the poor and disabled.

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“The average age of our volunteers is about 74 years old, so our volunteers, themselves, many of them are in the higher-risk categories … but I would say most are willing and able to do whatever it takes to serve those in need, which is very, very heartwarming,” Silgen said.

Their free help is intended for those who cannot afford assistance for themselves, and their help requires no applications or bureaucratic red tape, according to Interfaith Volunteers’ website.

“We also do visit people — homebound people who are isolated, lonely, not getting out. And we have typically done mostly face-to-face — we still are doing some of those,” Silgen said of the nonprofit’s services, which are provided at no cost but donations are gratefully accepted.

The nonprofit depends on donors and grant funders to support its work. More than 60% of the organization’s revenue is from financial contributions made by area individuals and businesses.

“A lot of them just want to visit and talk," Leifermann said of those she has helped.

Last year, more than 350 volunteers with Interfaith Volunteers provided 3,700 hours of assistance to 400 individuals in the county, according to the nonprofit organization.


“I am more than grateful for it,” Duncan said of Interfaith Volunteers. “And I wish right now that my health was better, so I could do it — get out and volunteer myself.”

If someone is in need of assistance from Interfaith Volunteers, call 218-820-7454 or toll-free 877-245-7454, or visit .

Interfaith Volunteers services

  • Construction of wheelchair ramps, low-rise steps or other handicapped access.

  • Minor home repairs.

  • Transportation to medical appointments, shopping and errands (with advance notice).

  • Home visits, either in person or by phone, as needed.

  • Care and companionship to poor, disabled or isolated elderly.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .
I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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