Volunteer Kamloops seeks support as drop in volunteerism impacts community

Volunteer Kamloops’ Link Program Coordinator Anita Jacobsen says volunteerism breeds a beautiful Thompson-Okanagan community.
Snow Angel Hayden Scott stands next to a volunteer at the Volunteer Kamloops booth at Overlander’s Days in Brocklehurst Park in July. aims to raise awareness about the local need for volunteers. Photo courtesy of Volunteer Kamloops

A drop in volunteerism has forced Volunteer Kamloops, an organization that has matched volunteers with nonprofit opportunities since 1985, to find creative solutions to attract and retain talent.

In an effort to meet the demand for volunteers at 60 different businesses and nonprofits in Kamloops, Volunteer Kamloops has begun hosting recruitment fairs and participating in community events to get the word out

“Last year alone, we had over 800 volunteers register with Volunteer Kamloops and our plan is to have even more this year,” says Anita Jacobsen, Link Program Coordinator at Volunteer Kamloops. 

However, after a surge of volunteer support during the pandemic, Jacobsen says it has been harder to attract and retain help. More than 40 seniors did not get matched with volunteers to help shovel sidewalks in 2022 through the popular Snow Angels program, and other partner organizations like Overlander Long Term Care have had to pause volunteer orientation due to lack of enrolment.  

To boost interest, Volunteer Kamloops held a fundraiser at Bright Eye Brewing July 27 as Jacobsen says the cost of doing business has steadily been on the rise over the last few years due to inflation, rising interest rates and low vacancy rates. While historically nonprofits have relied heavily on grants and government subsidies to operate, these are no longer meeting the organization’s needs. 

Volunteer Kamloops also attended the eighth annual Overlander’s Day July 23 at Brocklehurst Park, Jacobsen told The Wren. The daylong event provided families with an opportunity to take in face-painting and children’s activities, while local businesses showcased their talent. For Volunteer Kamloops, it was also a chance to bring attention to the needs of the community. 

Volunteer Kamloops’ Link Program Coordinator Anita Jacobsen says volunteerism breeds a beautiful Thompson-Okanagan community. Photo by Breanne Massey

“Our long-term goal is to let everybody know who we are, and that we are boots on the ground,” Jacobsen says. “We really want to do everything we can to help out every organization in the community that we possibly can, and to help those volunteers find those perfect volunteering roles.”

She anticipates Volunteer Kamloops will be making cameos at the annual Thompson Rivers University Student Union’s Back to School Barbecue Sep. 8, as well as the annual Timeraiser event in November, which encourages volunteers to bid on art pieces with volunteer hours instead of money.

Lack of volunteers delay summer training at Overlander Residential Care

Due to the lack of applications from volunteers, Overlander Long Term Care manager of volunteers and pastoral engagement Donna Lofstrom-Bell has temporarily postponed orientation at the seniors care home.

“We’ve rarely had a hard time attracting volunteers but this year, it’s been quiet,” Lofstrom-Bell says about three applications for support with recreational activities and porters have been received outside of Volunteer Kamloops’ liaison role. 

“In 30 years, it’s the first summer that it’s been like this,” she says. “We still haven’t done our orientation for July because we haven’t got enough applications.”

Lofstrom-Bell believes the volunteer placements at Overlander Residential Care are helpful for young people who are interested in applying to university programs as care aides, nurses or doctors, but those interests are not a requirement to be considered for the year-round opportunities at the residence. However, numbers are needed. Facilitating the orientation for volunteers requires at least seven volunteers to offset the cost of running it, according to Lofstrom-Bell.

“I’d really encourage young people who are looking to do something positive over the summer to spend some time with our residents…gaining some volunteer experience works really well for job applications or college applications in the future,” Lofstrom-Bell adds. She hopes to run a training session for volunteers in August.

Looking ahead: Seniors in need of snow removal help during winter months

With every passing winter, the snowfall brings with it a need for volunteers, as some elderly people struggle to clear their sidewalks.

That’s why the Snow Angels program, a city-wide volunteer effort, helps partner volunteers with neighbours in need, at no cost for eligible participants. The program is designed to match volunteers in the community with people who are unable to shovel their sidewalks during the winter, as required by the city, due to age, disabilities, chronic illness or recent surgeries.

This service helps reduce isolation and build community relationships, Jacobsen says and there are currently 300 people on the list, according to the city of Kamloops’ website. To prepare, Volunteer Kamloops is recruiting volunteers in anticipation of the demand for Snow Angels this winter.

“We actually had more volunteers sign up during the pandemic,” Jacobsen says of the Snow Angels program. “Now that people are back to work in their offices and are back doing extra-curricular activities, our Snow Angels volunteer numbers are down 25 per cent since the beginning of the year compared to last year’s volunteer numbers for the same time period.”

The numbers for volunteers in the Snow Angels program increased during the pandemic because it allowed social distancing and provided physical activity, Jacobsen believes. However, when the COVID-19 restrictions eased up, many participants left the program leaving a gap in services for those in need.

“The program is increasing in popularity and more and more seniors are signing up, but the volunteer numbers are down,” she says. “That means seniors that really need assistance just are not getting it and run the risk of falling and having catastrophic, life-altering injuries.”

In the winter 2022, the lack of volunteers resulted in 44 Snow Angel program participants left without assistance and Jacobsen says now is the time to raise awareness.

“It seems many people struggle to find the time to volunteer,” Jacobsen says.  “I think many people do not realize that there are so many types of volunteer opportunities out there that do not require a big time commitment. We have a variety of volunteer roles that work for anyone.”

How to get involved with Volunteer Kamloops

To apply as a Snow Angel, visit: Programs – Volunteer Kamloops for more information.

Additionally, Four Paws Food Bank, one of the organizations Volunteer Kamloops helps attract volunteers for, is requesting pet food for families that have been evacuated due to the recent wildfires. Jacobsen also has connections in Monte Lake for those needing to move horses to proper paddocks to keep animals safe during the wildfires.

She added volunteers can come once or twice a week, regularly or assist remotely in virtual opportunities based on what suits an applicant’s needs. The opportunities include crisis call centres, food banks for humans and animals, facilitation, social media, recreation and treasurer. 

Contact Jacobsen at program@volunteerkamloops.org if you’d like to find out more about volunteer opportunities in Kamloops.

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