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COVID-19 has impacted volunteer workforce

COVID-19 has impacted volunteer workforce

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Volunteers are worth their weight in gold.

Anyone who reads the Powhatan Today on a regular basis has probably already realized we do what we can to help our local nonprofits when they need to get the word out about something. It could be an event they are planning, a fundraiser, or a call for help. The end goal is usually to help one or more people in the community, so assisting them where possible is a no-brainer.

Whether they are feeding people, helping them find homes or make critical repairs to their own houses, providing health care, giving books to children, offering seniors rides to meet basic needs, ministering to people (body and soul), or providing other assistance in times of trouble, these organizations provide vital services to the community.

And those are just their regular functions. In the last six months, the ways we have seen the nonprofit organizations and the community as a whole step up have been incredible.

In the midst of all of that outpouring of love and support, part of me wondered about the long-term ramifications on the community with volunteerism. Based solely on the interactions I have had with Powhatan nonprofits in the last six years, I have noticed that a large portion of the county’s volunteers fall into the 50 and older category. Many of them are retired. And among those, many of them have underlying health conditions that put them in the higher risk category for COVID-19.

Last week, we shared two desperate cries for help from two of the county’s more prominent nonprofits. The Free Clinic of Powhatan needs volunteers to help register patients at the front desk on certain hours on Mondays and Thursdays. The Powhatan Food Pantry also needs help on Mondays and Thursdays, though they are asking for people who can pick up donated food from the local Food Lions and bringing it back to the pantry to sort and give away.

Talking to Theresa Fields, who manages the Powhatan Food Pantry, last week, I could hear in her voice how at a loss she is right now. She agreed that most of her volunteers tend to be seniors who are retired, bored and looking for something to do, or just genuinely want to help their community. Many of her volunteers have taken a step back because of the virus, and, while she understands why that is necessary for them, the need for the food pantry hasn’t stopped. If anything, it has probably increased.

I asked her about the implications if the food pantry didn’t have enough volunteers to function properly, and got the answer I kind of expected but dreaded: “The food pantry would have to close. We can’t run without volunteers and we can’t afford to pay people.”

I mentioned the above nonprofits because they are the most recent to ask for help, but there are so many more who serve the Powhatan community in amazing ways. Because they work in different ways and serve a variety of purposes, these nonprofits have volunteering options that can draw on the different skills people would bring with them.

“Food pantry closes” is not a headline I want to see run in our community newspaper. Nor do I want to have to write about another essential nonprofit unable to help people who desperately need their help because of a lack of hands to do the work. So instead I will write this column, helping local nonprofits pass on the message that they need help and hoping some of the people who read it will find there is something they can do.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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