On October 13, 2020, 69-year-old Marion (Marnie) was retired, living alone and 7 months into coping with COVID. While she had given Thanksgiving thanks online with her family the day before, she was bored and depressed, and in fact, not very thankful.
Like many men and women across the country she had filled her stay at home time cleaning out drawers, reading books, calling old friends, watching TV and learning how to Zoom so she could communicate with her family and others. She had kept herself physically active by walking most days and returned to knitting after a 30-year absence. What else could she do?
Like everyone else, she yearned for social contact and life seemed very hollow. Marnie was a giver. She needed to do more than give money to help the thousands of people who were hurting, some as a result of COVID-19, others because of their life’s circumstances. She needed to feel engaged and to feel she was being useful. Volunteering immediately jumped to mind, however, she assumed because of social distancing she could not do any volunteering involving personal contact.
Some years before she had volunteered at the local food bank. She had heard because of the large number of unemployed people, demands on the food bank were at historically high levels. As a long shot she went online. She learned that volunteering opportunities were reduced because of social distancing limitations, but the food bank had developed safe procedures, and if interested in volunteering, to contact them.
As it turned out they needed people to sort food. Shifts were three hours and they asked for a 6-month commitment.
Marnie decided to give it a try. The first few shifts were demanding, but within three weeks she found what she was asked to do was relatively easy. Her responsibilities included conducting tours for new volunteers, keeping the sorting table tidy and organized, familiarizing the team with safety protocols, sorting food and preparing meals to go to shelters.
She found her PPE and the safety procedures developed gave her piece of mind and mixing with the other volunteers was a real tonic. Witnessing the volume of people coming to get food, she knew her role, while basic, was important. Occasionally she filled in helping the people pick up their pre-ordered food, and as a consequence heard their stories of the emotional trauma of losing a job, having no income, or the difficulty of working while having to help school their children or supporting a sick parent or spouse. They also had a huge need to connect with someone.
Being positive by nature, Marnie was able to lift many of the visitors’ spirits, just by listening and being pleasant and reassuring. Her spirits were lifted too. She always came home on a high!
One day she ran into a fellow volunteer who she had known from the days she went to church. Her acquaintance mentioned the church was collecting clothes for people, including toques and scarves. There was also a phoning committee who regularly called others HOME ALONE who were not only from the parish but also others in the neighbourhood.
Ah, she thought, “I can call people later and I can immediately focus my knitting on making toques and scarves.” Before she knew it, she was busy collecting clothes from her friends and getting them involved in collecting clothes too.
Volunteering had indeed helped lift Marnie out of the doldrums and provided her with an opportunity to help. The recipients in turn were given a lift, and as a result she felt a part of the community. Marnie agreed to sign on for another six months.
Scenes like this have played out by the 1000s across the country over the past year. However, WE do not need a pandemic to get us involved in volunteering. People with a myriad of interests and skills volunteer for many reasons. Here are 21 reasons taken from my book, “Creating Opportunities: A Volunteers Memoir.” *
Ask yourself if any of these reasons apply to you. Did any of these reasons play a part in Marnie’s decision to volunteer?
21 Reasons People Volunteer
1. Some people wish to give back to their community. 2. Working with a volunteer organization can provide one with a sense of community. 3. Volunteering helps to build a community. 4. Volunteering is a way to meet new people. 5. Someone in their family or a friend was helped through a difficulty by an organization and they want to ensure others do not have this difficulty. 6. They want and need social contact. 7. Because of their children’s activities. 8. To do something meaningful as their job does not provide this. 9. They are at a stage of life and want to do something meaningful. 10. Because they have spare time. 11. Because their school required it. 12. Because they are moved by an injustice and want to do something about it. 13. They want to change the world. 14. A natural disaster propels their community into action, and they become involved. 15. They were asked by a friend or family member. 16. To learn skills. 17. Because volunteering plays a major role in healthy aging. 18. Volunteering makes you feel better. 19. Belief in a cause. 20. A release for someone who has lost a partner or gone through a marriage breakdown. 21. Wanting to leave a legacy.
Volunteering can take many forms. It can vary from walking a dog, to being part of an election team to delivering meals to seniors. Or perhaps telephoning and saying hello to someone who is alone, helping run an event, or teaching elderly people how to operate a computer. The list is endless.
Volunteering can be done at any age. I have a 97-year-old friend who is ACTIVE in raising money for an outreach program at his church. I also read recently about a 93-year-old woman, Helen Macdonald from Orillia, who until her final days knitted teddy bears, with the proceeds going to local charities.
In spite of, or because of, challenges from COVID-19 there are still many choices to get involved and help others:
• Ask a friend for ideas • Go online under COVID volunteering activities or • Join a service club such as Rotary which is a volunteering organization
Whatever you choose, volunteering will be both good news to you and for whom you volunteer