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Volunteerism is changing, not dying: : Carbonear food bank chairperson

["President of the Carbonear chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Kerri Abbott, helps place donated items on the organization's nearly empty shelves."]
["President of the Carbonear chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Kerri Abbott, helps place donated items on the organization's nearly empty shelves."]

CARBONEAR — The act of volunteering has become less common over the years, but perhaps for different reasons that 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 10th.

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,” added Menchions. “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 country wide.

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 here 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. 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.”

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