Non-profits such as the Shuswap Family Resource and Referral Society have struggled to find and keep volunteers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. (Shuswap Family Centre image)

Non-profits such as the Shuswap Family Resource and Referral Society have struggled to find and keep volunteers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. (Shuswap Family Centre image)

Vanishing volunteers: Shuswap non-profits struggle to find help since pandemic hit

Local volunteer coordinator worried she will have to close essential programs

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Salmon Arm Seniors Resource Centre has been struggling to keep some of its programs going.

It’s not alone.

Charities across the Shuswap have seen a sharp decline in their volunteer bases, said Chiara Dentrey, volunteer coordinator at the resource centre.

One example of this at the centre is its medical drives program, in which volunteers drive seniors who otherwise couldn’t to medical appointments around the Okanagan and Shuswap. Before the pandemic, the program had 16 drivers; now there are just two.

“The program’s really important, but the drivers are stretched pretty thin,” said Dentrey. “The two remaining drivers are retired, but essentially driving full-time. They’re amazing, they’ll drive someone to Kamloops at the drop of a hat.”

The Shuswap Family Centre has seen its volunteer pool get smaller and smaller since the pandemic began. Its executive director, Patricia Thurston, said so much has changed.

She used to say Salmon Arm was the city of volunteers; that it should fly that flag instead of the City of Salmon Arm flag.

“To have a volunteer shortage in a city that’s known for its volunteerism, it’s sad,” said Thurston.

She thinks an underlying fear of COVID-19, volunteers getting older, and people getting used to staying home are all contributing to lower volunteer turnout.

“I’ll take responsibility, in that first stage of the pandemic it was really hard to keep that volunteer pool. Now, we’re trying to get people back; we welcome volunteers of all ages,” said Thurston.

The family centre has a big Christmas campaign coming up, and really needs volunteers for it. “We can’t do it without them, our programs have thrived on volunteers for so long,” said Thurston.

Thurston said it’s a shame events like dinners to thank volunteers can’t really be held right now, because she wants volunteers to know how much they’re appreciated.

Dentrey said the social service sector as a whole has been struggling to find volunteers, and at the resource centre, one program has already had to close.

“Now that things are starting again after COVID-19 closures, it’s hard to get people back,” said Dentrey. “Some people don’t feel safe yet, others have been enjoying the free time.”

Dentrey wants people to know there are volunteer opportunities of all kinds available at charities around the Shuswap.

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