Paying It Forward
Why Payal Salsburg averages two hours a day of volunteer work
Published in 2022 Massachusetts Super Lawyers magazine
By Rebecca Mariscal on October 7, 2022
When Payal Salsburg moved to Boston from Florida in 2012, the walk to her office took her six minutes. Today, it’s closer to 20.
“I’m standing and talking to everybody, ‘Hey, I’ll see you next Sunday,’” she says.
After starting a white-collar criminal defense practice at Laredo & Smith, Salsburg began volunteering as a way to feel more connected to the community—helping out at places like Rice Sticks and Tea Asian Food Pantry, St. Francis House day shelter, and Massachusetts General Hospital, all of which are near her home. “I didn’t really know anybody here, and I didn’t have a network here in any way,” she says. “Now I know everybody who’s on the street because they live in the same community as me. It’s made me feel very, very connected to where I actually live, and not just to the people who pay high rents, but also to the people who are actually on the street.”
Food insecurity is a special cause for Salsburg, who experienced it while growing up in India. “Even though my parents worked, there were times when we had to rely on the school to give us after-school lunch,” she says. “So I knew that even people who are not necessarily visibly homeless, they have needs for food.”
She loves spending her Sundays at the shelter, especially after a stressful week. “I know that the five hours that I’m going to be spending there I don’t have to think about work,” she says. “I’m prepping food and feeding and just finding out how everybody else is doing.”
An article about NICU volunteers cuddling babies drew her to Mass Gen. “I’ve always loved kids,” she says. She started volunteering on the pediatric floor with infants to 8-year-olds. When the pandemic hit, the hospital lost many of its volunteers, so Salsburg transitioned to providing transports, distributing PPE and helping enforce the hospital’s visitor policy. She spent a few hours every day at the hospital for six months, volunteering through some of the worst days of the pandemic. The work was tough. “We had to actually stop people from being able to visit, and tell a wife or a son, ‘Only one of you can go up while your dad and husband is dying because the hospital policy says one visitor per day.’”
For this work and more, Salsburg has received the Gold President’s Volunteer Service Award through Boston Cares, a recognition for those who volunteer 500 hours a year or more—Salsburg clocked almost 800. That averages out to 66 hours a month, 15 hours a week, or more than two hours a day.
In addition, Salsburg serves as a bar advocate for the Committee for Public Counsel Services. “They contract with private counsel at lower hourly rates to provide public defender services to people who are indigent.” She’s also worked with clients on sealing criminal records. “I’ve actually been able to help a few people at the shelter who work there get their records sealed, and then they can go and get another job,” she says. “That’s been really nice because I can meld the two parts of my work, what I do as a lawyer and what I do as a volunteer.”
While practicing in Florida, she represented asylum-seekers through Immigration Equality, an organization that focuses on LGBTQ+ immigrants. Salsburg knows how difficult it can be on your own.
She moved to the U.S. by herself at 17, and relied on connections she made at her college, church and social organizations. That support has continued to inspire her volunteer and pro bono work.
“Somebody pulled me up, so it’s time for me to pull other people up,” she says. “That’s been a very, very important thing for me, to give back and pay it forward.”
Where to Get Involved
“If I can get other people to do what I’m doing, I think their lives are going to be so much better for it,” says Salsburg. “There’s a huge need, and even if you don’t think you can do something regularly, go do an hour.” Some of her suggested opportunities are with:
- Rice Sticks and Tea Asian Food Pantry – ricesticksandtea.org
- St. Francis House – stfrancishouse.org
- Massachusetts General Hospital – massgeneral.org/volunteer
- Boston Cares – bostoncares.org
- Committee for Public Counsel Services – publiccounsel.net
- Immigration Equality – immigrationequality.org
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