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Volunteers Are a Casualty of the Pandemic

Marion Charatan

Posted on November 13, 2020 15:02

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COVID-19 will have long-lasting impacts on our habits, health, morale and the economy. But another side effect of the contagious virus is that people have abandoned volunteering with non-profits.

A New York Times article got me thinking about my own place in the world. I wanted to volunteer at a local food bank. But frankly, I'm afraid. Why should I be fearful? Well, I'd be in a small room working pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder with other volunteers -- unpacking, separating food and repacking bags for clients. Social distancing would be impossible and the work area doesn't have ventilation.

Volunteer work offers a lot -- service to others and a special satisfaction that comes from knowing you're making a difference, even if it's a small one, in someone's life. You can't put a price on that.

But, just before I was going to call an organization called Hopelink a couple of months ago, I got cold feet. I just didn't want to put myself at a higher risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. I felt guilty but apparently, my reaction to doing volunteer work during a pandemic is more common than I would have thought. The Times article stated that two-thirds of people who volunteer for agencies have cut down their hours significantly or have stopped completely. This comes at a time when clients need social service assistance more than ever, following the loss of jobs, becoming ill or experiencing increased isolation. And non-profits suffer economically when they lose volunteers who offer free assistance

Due to the increased risks associated with COVID-19 for seniors, who traditionally make up the majority of the volunteer pool for agencies like the Salvation Army, there are less people now to keep up with a heavier demand for food and financial assistance. Volunteers are assigned to tasks ranging from packing and delivering food to helping clients fill out paperwork for help with rent or energy bills.

Even if a volunteer is not personally health-compromised, as was the case of Steve Hill, 65, of Salem, OR, who helped out in a free medical clinic when he retired, they might have to leave to protect a vulnerable family member. Hill made the decision to stop because he was worried that he might bring the virus home to his wife, who has asthma.

Meals on Wheels is a wonderful organization that delivers food to seniors at home or in nursing homes. However, even though the demand has gone up by almost 50%, the agency has lost half of its 2 million volunteers, many of whom were over 55 years old.

I wanted to do something to help others, so I connected with Volunteer Match and am currently doing a remote volunteer gig. It's only a writing position for an organization but it's my way of giving back just a little bit in these challenging and unprecedented times. I look forward to the time when I feel comfortable volunteering in-person again.

Marion Charatan

Posted on November 13, 2020 15:02

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