The 700 volunteers allow ADRA to work well beyond its means in the European country.

, with Adventist Review staff

ADRA has only two staff members in Portugal.

Yet it operates 70 national projects.

This is possible because about 700 people, nearly 10 percent of the Adventist Church’s membership in Portugal, volunteer for ADRA.

“Dedicated staff are the backbone of ADRA’s work, but we still wouldn’t be able to reach as many communities and individuals without our volunteers,” ADRA said in a statement.

The main focus of ADRA Portugal’s national program is to provide food to low or no income families. ADRA has a partnership with a major supermarket chain in the country, which donates both perishable and non-perishable food items. ADRA volunteers distribute the goods to beneficiaries.

Churches and individuals contribute in many ways.

ADRA uses two buildings — where items are stored and volunteers serve beneficiaries — free of charge in Setúbal, a Portuguese city of 118,000 people near the country’s capital, Lisbon.

One building is owned by a church member and the other is rented by a local Seventh-day Adventist church.

Happiness is a common theme among the volunteers, said David do Carmo, who has managed the project in Setúbal for the past decade. Amélia Tavira, 74, who immigrated from Angola in the 1970s, has been volunteering for 16 years.

“She is always smiling and making fun,” said do Carmo, who has volunteered with the project for 15 years. “If anyone is sad, she makes them happy.”

Do Carmo has seen the project grow from almost nothing. It started as a Dorcas project 15 years ago, and then Adventist Community Services took it over. It finally became an ADRA project eight years ago. Do Carmo said the volunteer work is a gift God has given him.

Church members, Adventist schools, and Pathfinder clubs help fundraise to cover the operating costs or to pay for services and goods that aren’t donated. One fundraising activity involves an annual Christmas concert where handicrafts made by volunteers and beneficiaries are sold.

Arminda Pinto da Silva, the wife of the local Bible worker, is a new addition to the volunteer team. She volunteered at a hospital for eight years before joining the project.

“It’s not easy, but it’s worth it,” she said. “We are doing our job happily. We are following Christ’s example of feeding the hungry.”

Another ADRA project is a social shop in Seixal, a nearby city of 184,000 people. The shop accepts donations of used clothing, which it sells to raise money to pay rent, utility bills, and diapers for babies. They also distribute food and offer practical training classes on topics such as healthy eating, cooking demonstrations, and how to cope with depression.

Patrícia Silvestre is the founder and coordinator of the social shop. She used to work in a health center but she felt she could do more. She left her job to devote herself exclusively to her family and to ADRA. She said her reward is the joy of the people they help and seeing the positive changes in their lives.

She told of a man who was referred to ADRA by a social worker. He was living alone, struggling with financial difficulties, and battling depression and suicidal thoughts.

“Now, he’s our brother,” Silvestre said. “God used us to save that life. We keep in contact. Now he’s working, and has a wife and two children. And sometimes, when needed, he helps us with the social work.”

ADRA International president Jonathan Duffy, back center, meeting with ADRA volunteers in Portugal. (ADRA)

While many volunteers are retired or don’t work for other reasons, others volunteer on top of their regular jobs. One such volunteer is Isabel Ruivo, who has been volunteering with ADRA for six years.

“One day I felt I needed to do something different,” she said. “Everything in my life was so quiet, so I decided to help other people. My life is quiet no longer.”

Ruivo is a university professor and manages a project that has a particular focus on young people. The project partners with a local school to work with students who have a troubled home life. They also assist young mothers with baby supplies and have been able to help several women and girls who were victims of domestic violence.

“It’s not difficult at all,” Ruivo said. “I don’t feel troubled doing it. If we’re tired during the week, we come here and forget our problems, they all seem so small. Giving is better than receiving.”

ADRA International president Jonathan Duffy praised the work of the Portuguese volunteers during a recent visit to the three projects.

“We really appreciate how people give their time and effort to work with ADRA to reach vulnerable people in the community,” Duffy said. “We wouldn’t be able to achieve what we’ve achieved as an organization without volunteers.”

He said he was reminded of remarks by U.S. cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

“If more people follow the Portuguese church’s example of Christian service, I believe that we can indeed change the world,” Duffy said.

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