Volunteering for All Ages: How 14 Toledo Girls Found a Way to Help Do Their Part During WWII

Posted on November 5, 2020

by Maddison S

During the apex of World War II, contribution to the war effort, especially by women, was at an all-time high. More women than ever were entering industry, working in agriculture, and receiving nursing degrees. As these roles were being filled, though, volunteers also continued to contribute. The Red Cross was a pillar of support – it mobilized nursing aides, ran blood drives, and provided materials to ensure the health and safety of our armed forces. As badly as the country needed women to enter the workforce, it needed the help of volunteers just as much.

For 14 students at Toledo-area Glenwood School, though, volunteering for the Red Cross wasn’t an option because they didn’t meet the standard age requirement.** Rather than accepting defeat, the group of friends created a new club which they titled the Girls’ Activity Friendship Society (GAFS). By establishing themselves as motivated, forward-thinking and committed to volunteerism, members of the GAFS were accepted into nearby Robinwood Hospital to volunteer for one afternoon per week. During their shift, they assisted in making bandages and helped with any other tasks that would alleviate the pressures of the overworked regular staff and adult volunteers. Although their responsibilities may have seemed insignificant to some observers, members of the GAFS achieved something greater: they defied limitations based on age and they overcame obstacles to help the greater good, and their country, in a time of need.

**The fourteen eighth graders that comprised the GAFS in 1943 were Shirley Zerby (President), Patricia Verbryke (Vice President), Alice Shuff (Treasurer), Katherine Schultz (Secretary), Patricia Parker, Odna Tester, Phyllas Nichols, Lillia Sponseller, Mary Ann Stedman, Alvena Birchard, Margaret Kerrick, Jackie Quigley, Edna Thurston, and Bonnie Thomas.

Although volunteering has evolved over the course of the nearly eighty years that have passed since WWII, it continues to impact American culture by supporting, thereby elevating, communities. In fact, just as the United States needed volunteers during World War II, in present-day communities have been calling upon volunteers to help alleviate the suffering inflicted by the continuing pandemic. More communities than ever have been decimated as a result of COVID-19, leaving people displaced, financially burdened and socially isolated. By volunteering, one can work towards improving outlook on love, care, and understanding.

Fortunately, helping your community isn’t a task only reserved for adults! More age-inclusive opportunities exist now than when the GAFS was formed in 1943, so whether you are a parent, an adult or a child, you and your family or friends can positively impact the world around you by volunteering for local organizations. Please find several volunteer opportunities (all ages welcomed) below and remember that these represent just a tiny sliver of the innumerable opportunities you can find throughout the Toledo area.


Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity: Habitat for Humanity’s focus is on building and renovating homes for those in need – this work highlights the importance of community involvement. Habitat for Humanity honors the phrase “it takes a village” by putting together big builds (homes), small builds (playhouses, etc.) and community cleanups (enhancing curb appeal and exterior renovation). Some of these activities are of course tailored to youth volunteers. By becoming involved, you will not only help your community, but you will also get a firsthand look at what it means to work together to make your community a better, more livable environment.

Beach House Family Shelter: BHFS is an open-door shelter that provides meals, beds, warmth, hygiene and so much more to those in need. All ages opportunities include cleaning, sorting donations and serving meals. Help in shelters is needed now more than ever – the pandemic has left people displaced, financially burdened and more reliant on support systems.

Food for Thought: Food for Thought disperses mobile pantries across Toledo to alleviate the insecurities of those in need by providing nutrition-balanced meals while maintaining and respecting their dignity. Its most popular volunteer opportunity is the Friday Night Lunch Packing event, which gathers volunteers and makes PB&J sandwiches for those in need. It is easy to sign up and it is a great opportunity for you and your family to become a part of the process that keeps the Toledo community healthy, happy and strong.

Cover of Volunteering: Giving Back Cover of Volunteering: Giving Back

Volunteering: Giving Back

Cover of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Volunteering for Teens Cover of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Volunteering for Teens

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Volunteering for Teens

Cover of Volunteering to Help in Your Neighborhood Cover of Volunteering to Help in Your Neighborhood

Volunteering to Help in Your Neighborhood

If you would like to learn more about Toledo’s involvement (volunteer and otherwise)in the war effort during WWII, please visit TLCPL’s Local History Department and explore historic periodicals like Toledo’s The Blade.

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