WELLINGTON COUNTY – Kim Cusimano says the COVID-19 pandemic has produced somewhat of a yin and yang phenomenon when it comes to local volunteerism.
Non-profit organizations, charities and service clubs have cancelled events, made major changes to their operations or shut down altogether. Yet simultaneously there has also been a “huge outpouring of support” from people wanting to help.
“During times of community distress, people are always wanting … to offer support and to contribute,” said Cusimano, interim director of PIN (The People and Information Network), formerly the Volunteer Centre of Guelph Wellington.
“The generosity of spirit is a shining light in dark times.”
The pandemic situation this year has underscored the vital role played by frontline workers, and PIN officials say nothing should supercede that message.
However, Cusimano said the situation has also reinforced the importance of the 12.7 million Canadians who annually make a difference through volunteerism and civic participation.
“Now more than ever, (it) is still a vital celebration to appreciate and recognize the vast amount of people who dedicate their time in the community,” said Cusimano.
National Volunteer Week (April 19 to 25) will be more of a “virtual celebration” this year, but it will carry on nonetheless, with a “Cheers to volunteers” theme and the hashtag #NVW2020.
Cusimano said it’s important to recognize volunteers whose roles carry on during the crisis, including those at food banks, mental health organizations, emergency services and others helping the most vulnerable.
For those looking to help but not knowing how, she suggests starting close to home, first and foremost.
“Take care of yourself and your immediate social circle,” Cusimano suggested.
For volunteer organizations, she acknowledged this is a “very precarious” time, with many officials worried about funding.
She noted many groups are taking the opportunity to explore doing things differently and some are already offering ways for volunteers to help remotely.
Despite closures and cancellations due to COVID-19, thanking volunteers can be done in many ways, they add.
“Celebrating volunteers on National Volunteer Week 2020 invites our community to focus on creative, alternative ways to say thank you” said Cusimano.
“Leaders of volunteers have been engaging with their volunteers online via video calls, calling volunteers by phone, offering online training and sending e-cards with good thoughts and well wishes.”
Using this time to connect with volunteers and share how their support has made an impact is important, explained Cusimano.
“Whether formally through the mission and vision of non-profits and charities or informally through helping neighbours, creating an online fundraiser, or sewing masks for COVID-19, volunteering is caring,” she stated.
How to help
PIN officials say local communities are “rising to action” during this time.
But “choosing to do so also requires being informed and knowledgeable of the risks and if choosing to volunteer, you are doing so safely and using precautions,” said Cusimano.
People can always contact local organizations, non-profits and clubs directly. For general information, the PIN website (PINnetwork.ca)offers the following:
– a community information database;
– a list of local volunteer opportunities (in “normal” times there are generally over 1,500 volunteers needed in the region, in dozens of categories, Cusimano said);
– a new category for volunteer opportunities related specifically to COVID-19; and
– a volunteer safety checklist developed by Volunteer Canada.
“We want to ensure our community can access the opportunities that are meaningful to them and make informed decisions,” said Cusimano.