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Why right now is the perfect time to volunteer

Volunteering is such an integral part of Australian life and countless organisations, charities and sports clubs rely on some form of volunteering.

Many organisations and charities would not survive without people volunteering their time to bigger causes. [Source: Shutterstock]
Many organisations and charities would not survive without people volunteering their time to bigger causes. [Source: Shutterstock]

But you may never realise how important volunteering is until suddenly there is no one available to volunteer.

The coronavirus breakout has put an end to a large number of volunteering opportunities, affecting older Australians both on the volunteering and the receiving end.

In the 2016 census, there were 668,000 Australians aged 65 and over volunteering their time to different charities, organisations and community groups.

This is a huge number of older people providing their expertise and time towards a bigger cause.

However, the Government recently asked for vulnerable or older people to protect themselves by self-isolating at home as much as possible. This includes people over the age of 70, or people over the age of 60 years, or if they are Indigenous Australians over the age of 50, with health conditions or comorbidities.

Overnight, the volunteering workforce lost over 20 percent of their helpers, as older people started to self-isolate at home, while in some cases demand for services drastically increased.

Why volunteering is so important

Many organisations and charities would not survive without people volunteering their time to bigger causes.

Sharyn Broer, President of the Australian Meals on Wheels Association (AMOWA) and Chief Executive Office (CEO) of Meals on Wheels (MOW) South Australia (SA), says COVID-19 has hit the organisation hard, since they have such a large amount of older volunteers.

"We have about 76,000 volunteers engaged with Meals on Wheels nationally and about 60 percent of them are aged over 70. Overnight, more than half of our workforce became unavailable to us," explains Ms Broer. 

"Many [Meals on Wheels] services have already been strongly encouraging those older volunteers to stay home, particularly if they had chronic health conditions. Our median age group is 70-74 year olds, we have volunteers into their 80s with Meals on Wheels."

While those volunteers haven't been able to make food deliveries, because they are self-isolating for their own safety, Meals on Wheels understands it's important for their volunteers to keep engaged.

So many MOW volunteers who can't do their normal duties are now making telephone calls and keeping in touch with those people that they previously delivered meals to.

Over the last two weeks, Meals on Wheels SA, had nearly 2,000 inquiries from potential new volunteers. Ms Broer says this exceeds the normal inquiries they receive within a year.

She adds it is fantastic that so many individuals are wanting to jump on board, however, these inquiries need to convert into people on the roster who are fully inducted and ready to volunteer, which requires quite a bit of administrative work.

"As we say with volunteers, only their time comes free, there are a lot of other costs that go around tapping into the volunteer workforce," says Ms Broer.

Already, Meals on Wheels has had to change their processes to meet the new restrictions and safety measures put in place by the Government. This is even more difficult considering Meals on Wheels has had a 250 percent increase in new users wishing to utilise their services.

Because Meals on Wheels provides such an essential food delivery service to older people, it is no surprise that their service demand increased so dramatically after the Government asked older people over the age of 70 to self-isolate as much as possible.

Ms Broer adds that what is occurring to Meals on Wheels would be similar experiences for other community based organisations and charities during this COVID-19 pandemic, especially those groups that support vulnerable people.

"Organisations like Meals on Wheels simply could not deliver our services to the community without volunteers. Without COVID-19, our normal annual operation, we estimate that volunteers contribute $600 million dollars worth of help to the Australian community," explains Ms Broer.

"Although there are large sums of money going to help save people's jobs and making sure they have an income during this crisis, we don't have $16 million to drop on organisations, like Meals on Wheels, to just create jobs and help. 

"If we don't have volunteers step in, the $50 million the Government allocated for this service will be nowhere near enough to continue to deliver the service, let along increase it when people need it more than ever."

The perfect time is right now

Many people are going through financial hardships or may have even lost their job because of the economic downturn.

While the Government has announced, and is still unveiling, safeguards for those people going through those financial hardships, there are volunteering opportunities that would value extra hands and your time.

Ms Broer says they need the younger generation to step up and provide the spare time they have, especially if they are doing online courses at university and their part-time job is no longer open. 

She adds that volunteering can make you feel really accomplished during this scary time and can also alleviate any lockdown boredom younger people may be experiencing since there are no bars or clubs open and social gatherings are banned.

"The Australian community steps up and helps during a crisis, we are a really privileged society because of that," says Ms Broer.

"We need our community coming together. We need our younger people to step forward, and maybe they are in a position now that they are working reduced hours or have been stood down from work, they are suddenly available to help at a time of day they never were otherwise.

"Many of the existing younger volunteers have started coming in a bit more frequently, and we have found that the community is responding. We need a continued influx of younger volunteers for all of the different sorts of roles."

She also says that parents who volunteer for their local school canteen or for sporting clubs can maybe spare their time for different causes, since many sport groups and some schools have closed. 

Organisations like Meals on Wheels need people to temporarily provide support during a natural crisis like the coronavirus.

Ms Broer adds that any people that are able to should volunteer with a community organisation or charity and help out for a little while so their own nans and pops can stay home and be safe during COVID-19.

For more information about the coronavirus, visit the Aged Care Guide's COVID-19 update page. 

Do you have any questions about the coronavirus that you want answered? Tell us in the comments below or email journalist@dps.com.au.

Related Content:
Government suggests further protective measures for older Australians
How do I continue to get healthcare if I am self-isolating?
Nationwide survey to track Australians wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic

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