Normally, an estimated 743 million hours would be provided to Australian communities by volunteers, however, bushfires and the current COVID-19 pandemic has seen the country rely on volunteers more than ever before.
National Volunteer Week, running from 18-24 May, highlights the selfless acts of service by volunteers to support other Australians and the community.
During the current pandemic, many volunteers have become essential in certain services, including packing food deliveries, checking in on the elderly, and helping people through difficult times.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Volunteering Australia, Adrienne Picone, says this challenging year has shone a spotlight on the power of the unpaid workforce.
“With such need, we are working hard to promote safe and effective volunteer working conditions and encourage Volunteer Involving Organisations to do the same," says Mr Picone.
“It is more important than ever that we thank and recognise volunteers this National Volunteer Week.
"Some Volunteering Involving Organisations are currently seeking volunteers with roles such as community support, telephone volunteers, delivery drivers and digital mentors currently advertised on the GoVolunteer website.
"It’s important for people to remember that once COVID-19 restrictions lift, most volunteering programs will resume as normal and will be actively re-engaging with their volunteers and possibly seeking new volunteers."
The theme for this year's National Volunteer Week is 'Changing communities. Changing lives'.
A social media campaign is running throughout the week encouraging people to share a photo of themselves waving their hand of thanks and using the hashtag #NVW2020 and #waveforvolunteers.
Aged care providers and organisations thank volunteers for their selfless service
All areas of the aged care industry are thanking volunteers for their support and contributions to the wellbeing of older Australians.
Dementia Australia has recognised more than 1,000 of their volunteers who support the lives of people living with dementia, their families and carers.
Dementia Australia CEO, Maree McCabe, says this year's theme, 'Changing communities. Changing lives', really summarises the work of volunteers.
"Dementia Australia volunteers assist us to change the community’s understanding and perspective of dementia," says Ms McCabe.
"Volunteers are integral to the work that we do at Dementia Australia and we are extremely grateful for the generosity and compassion our volunteers bring to their roles.
"Without volunteers we simply could not do all of the work that we do, so this week and every week we say a big thank you to them for their extraordinary contribution."
While volunteers from Dementia Australia have had their volunteering commitments impacted by COVID-19, where possible, those volunteers are attempting to keep up their volunteering obligations by utilising the online space.
Volunteer of seven years for Dementia Australia, Jan Bayley, was involved in the launch of the pilot program, 'Virtual Cuppa' walking group, which allows for people with dementia to feel connected and touch base with Dementia Australia volunteers.
Ms Bayley says, "Volunteering at Dementia Australia has provided me with the opportunity to meet and work with many wonderful and diverse people including other volunteers, clients and their carers as well as Dementia Australia staff and the general public.
"It was such fun to be able to communicate with clients in their homes and find out how they have been filling in the last few months.
“I’ve been amazed at how well everyone is adapting to the technology and enjoying sharing parts of their lives with us."
Ms McCabe adds that their volunteers' contributions are vital to the organisation's success and continuous support of older Australians with dementia.
"Their generosity and commitment is a gift and this week we have the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate our wonderful volunteers for the profound difference they make to the lives of people of all ages living with all forms of dementia, their families and carers,” says Ms McCabe.
Peak body for aged care, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), has also thanked the 70,000 plus volunteers across LASA and their members, who contribute to the wellbeing of over 1.3 million older Australians at home and in residential care.
CEO of LASA, Sean Rooney, says, "Our selfless volunteers really do change our communities and change the lives of older Australians, all year round.
"Visitation limits during the coronavirus pandemic have made conventional aged care volunteering more challenging but the dedication of volunteers has prompted new ways of doing things.
“Volunteers are still on the frontline, helping and checking in on older people and supporting families during this unprecedented time.”
Western Australian aged care provider, Bethanie, is recognising their 550 volunteers that undertake a variety of jobs at the organisation's aged care homes, living well centres and retirement villages, and in the homes of their clients.
Bethanie CEO, Chris How, says Bethanie understands the importance of volunteers and honouring their service to the community.
"With over 4,000 Western Australians in our care, we simply couldn’t operate without our 550-odd volunteers. Each one is an integral part of our team and plays a central role to the provision of the high-quality care which we pride ourselves on at Bethanie," explains Mr How.
"Whether it’s through social interaction with a resident, running a games group like bingo or even those who can help with one off special events, every little bit makes such a big difference and really helps to brighten the day of our clients.
“In April, we had 70 new expressions of interest to volunteer, which is quite incredible given these uncertain times. A special thank you goes out to all of our volunteers and we really look forward to welcoming everyone back after COVID-19, as well as taking on some new ones.”
Federal Government announces funding to support volunteering
The Federal Government has provided a $9 million funding boost to volunteers in community groups, announcing the funds during National Volunteer Week.
Minister for Families and Social Services, Anne Ruston, says the funding will support organisations and their volunteers through a very tough year, with many community groups experiencing low volunteer numbers because of COVID-19.
This was the case for Meals on Wheels Australia, who lost nearly 60 percent of their workforce because of Government recommendations for people over the age of 60 to self-isolate to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
Minister Ruston says, "The bushfires had a devastating impact on many of our people and communities across the country and we are now living through a global pandemic.
"Volunteers freely give their time and skills to support others and will play a key role in communities over the next few months. This funding recognises the sacrifices they make to help deliver vital services to those who need it most.
"It’s vital we acknowledge the important contribution of our 8.7 million volunteers nationwide. While the work of our volunteers may be unpaid, it is not unrecognised.
"From fighting bushfires, delivering food to vulnerable Australians in isolation and helping out with the weekend sport, they are all local champions."
The $9 million Government funding injection will be spread across 2,698 organisations. Additionally, all organisations will be eligible for grants between $1,000 to $5,000, which will further support volunteering programs in local communities.
New South Wales community groups will receive $2,909,455; Victoria, $2,381,770; Queensland, $1,778,170; Western Australia, $915,010; South Australia, $611,440; Tasmania, $312,350; ACT, $179,100; and the Northern Territory, $119,910.
This is a huge investment into local community groups and organisations, with volunteers providing an estimated economic and social contribution of $290 billion per year.
To find out more about National Volunteering Week, head to the Volunteering Australia website.