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Monday, February 17, 2020
Connecting Our Communities

Shortages behind the wheel puts them behind the 8-ball

Groups such as Community Care Concepts, which administers Meals on Wheels, find themselves with a shortage of volunteers due to changing demographics

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While National Volunteer Week showcases the amazing work volunteers do, it also shines a spotlight on the  ever growing need for more people willing to help.

Volunteerism is dwindling across the board, whether it be for events, local sports teams or service clubs. From such groups, the message is unanimous: they need more help.

For Community Care Concepts, which administers seniors’ services such as Meals on Wheels, volunteers are the very life blood of the organization. There is a pressing need for assistance.

A record high demand for their services has come along with a wave of retiring volunteers and only a slow stream of new people entering to help.

“Our agency is over 30 years old and across the three townships we have had very, very good uptake and volunteer retention, but they are aging and so we are finding it harder and harder to recruit young people into volunteerism,” said Karla Frey, community outreach coordinator with Community Care Concepts of Woolwich, Wellesley and Wilmot, noting it could be due to many things including a lack of knowledge of the opportunities to volunteer locally, the demands of work and the changing economy.

“We are very flexible with what is available for volunteerism. Often people just aren’t aware of the flexibility and what is available in terms of volunteerism here at the agency.”

Among the many services that they need volunteers for, they have an immediate and desperate need for drivers to help with their Meals on Wheels and assisted transportation programs.

“Our biggest need is getting folks their food, making sure those hot meals come to them and they are nutritionally supported and not feeling isolated socially as well because they get that contact,” explained Frey.

Meals on Wheels delivers hot meals around noon hour from meal servers in Woolwich, Wellesley and Wilmot through a route of around five or six houses.

“This year we will see the largest number of meals that we have ever had delivered,” said Cathy Harrington, executive director of Community Care Concepts. “Over 21,000 meals that we have delivered across the three townships and so with those 21,000 its additional routes – a volunteer can only deliver so many – so we have had to add extra routes, which means more volunteers.”

In addition to the delivery of meals, the program serves as somewhat of a watchdog service for the vulnerable in the community.

“They become the eyes and ears in the community, so when you’re dropping off a meal to somebody it may be the only human contact that person has in that whole day,” said Frey.

Although the volunteers are just dropping off the meal, they do become familiar with residents and can flag anything irregular or issues with safety at the home. CCC can then follow up with them and help to provide solutions.

Just recently, however, a lack of volunteers has forced the agency to condense some routes. With that, the demand is higher than ever for help.

Reflecting CCC’s focus on services for seniors, the crowd was thoroughly entertained by the music and the lessons provided by the symphony conductor. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]
Frey explains there are many ways to boost volunteer numbers, including businesses promoting participation during lunchtime, students meeting their required volunteer hours and people pitching in as they can, perhaps volunteering sporadically rather than regularly.

“There are all different ways in which we can incorporate volunteers, and we really try to make it around what works for people,” she said.

Also in dire need is the assisted transportation program. With this, volunteers are needed to drive people to medical appointments, grocery shopping and any other type of outing they may need assistance with.

“It’s a great opportunity to access that more homey environment of  a driver,” said Frey.  “Volunteers that we get in here are lovely and they are a friend on your way to a difficult appointment.”

Drivers take people to appointments such as cancer treatments, MRIs and eye tests, for instance. Beyond the transportation, volunteers also provide some much-needed support to the clients.

“It’s not always good news for people so it’s nice to have the comfort – not everybody has somebody who can drive them,” she said.

Over the past year, they have provided some 8,000 rides for people, both within the region and to destinations beyond. With that, volunteering to help with the program is completely flexible.

“It is the most flexible in that you just say when you can and can’t do it. We phone you and if you say yes, that’s awesome – we will schedule you with a ride – and if you say no, then we will call you next time or offer you a couple more rides that we need to fill.”

The organization works very hard to accommodate anyone interested in volunteering, there are no lengthy commitments – any help they can get they are happy to have it.

“We couldn’t do the work that we do without the contribution of volunteers,” said Harrington.

Originally founded by volunteers as Woolwich Home Support, CCC has seen people committing upwards of 30 and 40 years as volunteers.

“Long before our organization was formed there were volunteers through the local churches preparing meals and delivering them to seniors who were isolated in their community. It was really only when the volume became so big that the organization formalized that at that time we chose Woolwich Home Support. We have never ever forgotten the contribution that volunteers made,” said Harrington. “We have that spirit of helping your neighbours in need, rolling up your sleeves and doing what it takes to just make this a great community for people to age well in. Those are the messages that we continue to hear and that’s a unique piece that I really appreciate around the township. It’s just that spirit of giving back to the community.”

Getting involved is easy, Frey says. To volunteer, just reach out with your interest and then they can go from there to work around what will fit into your schedule.

There are 110 active volunteers across the three townships, collectively putting in around 9,000 hours a year to help support the many programs.

“If we can use the volunteers our capacity and capability is a lot bigger,” said Frey. “If you can only give a tiny bit that is huge to us being a volunteer-based agency.”

Working directly with volunteers, Frey says it has been a blessing to see the generosity come out of the community.

“We love them. I enjoy working with volunteers because I find it quite a blessing to sit with people who come on their own, don’t look for anything in return and just want to give  – they are just inspiring people to work with, for sure.”

“We couldn’t do the work that we do without the contribution of volunteers,” added Harrington. “The needs are not decreasing, they are continuing to increase.”

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