Carbonear food bank chair­woman says vol­un­teerism chang­ing, not dy­ing

The Compass - - Editorial - BY CHRIS LEWIS edi­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

The act of vol­un­teer­ing has be­come less com­mon over the years, but per­haps for dif­fer­ent rea­sons than you may think.

Dur­ing a re­cent coun­cil meet­ing in Spa­niard’s Bay, Cathy Klein­wort, chair of the en­vi­ron­ment com­mit­tee for the Town of Spa­niard’s Bay, brought for­ward the year end re­port on be­half of the en­vi­ron­ment li­ai­son, Eric Jewer, who was un­able to at­tend the meet­ing held on April 10.

To­ward the end of her re­port, Klein­wort men­tioned the dif­fi­culty the com­mit­tee has faced re­cently with find­ing vol­un­teers for var­i­ous projects and events.

“(The com­mit­tee) has ex­hausted the com­mu­nity in search of vol­un­teers,” said Klein­wort, when men­tion­ing an up­com­ing event in the com­mu­nity. “I imag­ine we’ll find some, but it’s not so easy.”

Tony Men­chions, mayor of Spa­niard’s Bay, agreed with Klein­wort’s state­ment.

“Vol­un­teer­ing is not as pop­u­lar as it once was,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of peo­ple who at­tend our coun­cil meet­ings, and if we could have half of that num­ber out vol­un­teer­ing in the com­mu­nity, it’d make all the dif­fer­ence.”

How­ever, Kerri Ab­bott, chair­per­son for the St. Vin­cent de Paul Food Bank in Carbonear, says that it’s not that vol­un­teer­ing isn’t as pop­u­lar, it’s just chang­ing with the gen­er­a­tions.

“At one point in time, peo­ple were more than happy to vol­un­teer,” said Ab­bott. “It’s not that way these days, but that’s not be­cause younger peo­ple are lazy. It’s the op­po­site, re­ally — They’re just ex­tremely busy.”

Ab­bott ex­plained that vol­un­teer­ing is com­mon among re­tired cit­i­zens of the com­mu­nity, who have the ex­tra time dur­ing the day to ded­i­cate to vol­un­teer­ing at the food bank, and that the ma­jor­ity of reg­u­lar vol­un­teers they have fall into that cat­e­gory.

“Stu­dents in ju­nior high and high school have such tight schedules these days,” added Ab­bott. “They go to school at eight in the morn­ing, and usu­ally they don’t come home un­til five or six at night, once they’re fin­ished with all their af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties, whether that be sports, mu­sic, dance, or what­ever else.”

Ab­bott has re­cently be­gun con­tact­ing other food banks across Canada to see if they’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the same lack of vol­un­teers. Through this, she’s found out that it’s be­come some­thing of a prob­lem coun­try­wide. Cathy Klein­wort chairs the en­vi­ron­ment com­mit­tee for the Town of Spa­niard’s Bay, and ad­dressed the com­mit­tee’s strug­gles with find­ing vol­un­teers at a re­cent coun­cil meet­ing.

So­cial me­dia

To ad­dress the prob­lem, Ab­bott says a pres­ence on so­cial me­dia, and the In­ter­net in gen­eral, is key.

“It’s the same thing as some­one go­ing to buy some­thing from Ama­zon,” Ab­bott told The Com­pass. “The buyer is go­ing to want as much in­for­ma­tion about the product as pos­si­ble be­fore they spend their money. Like­wise, peo­ple want as much in­for­ma­tion about an or­ga­ni­za­tion be­fore they spend their time vol­un­teer­ing there. So things like a Face­book page or a Twit­ter ac­count are re­ally im­por­tant.”

Ab­bott added that food banks in places like St. John’s aren’t see­ing the same de­cline in younger vol­un­teers be­cause they do have so­cial me­dia ac­counts, which lets them pro­vide in­for­ma­tion to pos­si­ble vol­un­teers, as well as in­ter­act with them.

The St. Vin­cent de Paul Food Bank is cur­rently work­ing on ad­dress­ing this them­selves, though man­ag­ing on­line ac­counts can be­come a job in and of it­self, and Ab­bott says her first pri­or­ity is al­ways mak­ing sure there’s food avail­able be­fore at­tend­ing to an on­line pres­ence.

High school stu­dents, in order to grad­u­ate, are re­quired to com­plete a course called Ca­reer De­vel­op­ment.

“It’s not that peo­ple don’t want to vol­un­teer, it’s that they’re just so busy.” Kerri Ab­bott

Dur­ing this course, stu­dents need to ac­cu­mu­late at least 30 hours of vol­un­teer work, which can prove to be dif­fi­cult for stu­dents who are in­volved in af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties.

Some­times, a stu­dent’s avail­abil­ity could be as tight as hav­ing only a few hours avail­able dur­ing one or two days a week, which Ab­bott says makes it dif­fi­cult for food banks or other vol­un­teer­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions to give the stu­dents the hours they need to pass.

“At the end of the day, vol­un­teer­ing is chang­ing, and peo­ple need to un­der­stand that. It’s not that peo­ple don’t want to vol­un­teer, it’s that they’re just so busy. That, mixed with a lack of in­for­ma­tion about lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions, makes it dif­fi­cult for younger peo­ple to vol­un­teer,” said Ab­bott. “I think or­ga­ni­za­tions need to ad­dress this and work with it, in­stead of just say­ing no one wants to vol­un­teer any­more, and leav­ing it at that.”

FILE PHOTO

Kerri Ab­bott says that vol­un­teerism is not dy­ing, but that changes need to be made.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

FILE PHOTO

Tony Men­chions, mayor of Spa­niard’s Bay, was a part of a dis­cus­sion on vol­un­teerism dur­ing a re­cent coun­cil meet­ing.

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