Volunteerism taking a substantial hit, as hunger relief need in Northeast Ohio doubles

Volunteerism taking a substantial hit, as hunger relief need in Northeast Ohio doubles

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -The Greater Cleveland Volunteers recently surveyed their more than 2000 volunteers and found than only about 25% of them are currently serving agencies in the community.

“The majority of them have volunteers in the age bracket 60 plus. And so they have all taken a substantial hit on volunteer activity,” said Nancy Dzurnak, program manager with the Greater Cleveland Volunteers.

The Greater Cleveland Volunteers connects its volunteers with about 100 local agencies in eight categories, like education, older adults and hunger relief which is the largest need right now.

“For the month of September, we will be distributing produce at double the number of locations compared to 2019,” said Dzurnak.

Dzurnak said some agencies aren’t open, volunteer positions have been suspended or eliminated because of risk, and some volunteers aren’t comfortable returning due to their own health risks or vulnerability.

Sixty percent aren’t sure if they’ll ever return to volunteering, she said.

“I realize over and over again that all these different agencies really rely on volunteer help. many of them are hurting, just like businesses, in that they are really over stretched with the staff they have right now and we’re all struggling," said Shirley Hemminger.

Hemminger used to serve as a volunteer three to five days a week at several agencies.

"Volunteering has been personally rewarding for me. I realize over and over again that all these different agencies...

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“When it happened, since I’m a retired nurse, I really felt like I should be able to do something,” she said.

Now, she’s doing what she can, taking temperatures at the McGregor Foundation which supports seniors.

Since the majority of volunteers are in the 60 plus age bracket, the ones most at risk, Zurnak said they are now looking to rebuild their inventory of helping hands with a new set of volunteers.

"Having the flexibility now with people working remotely, working at home, we are getting people saying ‘Hey I can volunteer now. I can help with a tutoring situation.' Some tutoring is going remote and virtual, so that can easily be done,” Dzurnak said.

Agencies that rely on volunteers are pivoting like businesses.

“Just like essential workers there are essential volunteers, like social services, where they had to continue. Some changed from social services to disaster relief,” DZurnak said.

Meals on Wheels is now delivering one to two times per week with frozen food instead of five times each week..

Shirley said she’s open to taking her volunteerism online to stay safe and stay active.

“If the agencies could find things that we could do online, like Skype or FaceTime with some of the elders in the different agencies, then maybe we could do some of that too. We can write notes, send cards. So if we get that information, I think that there are a lot of volunteers that may not want to go out in public, but we’re willing to do whatever we can,” she said.

If are willing to volunteer, either in person, or in a new virtual set up, the Greater Cleveland Volunteers can match you up with an appropriate post.

Call 216-391-9500 x 2116 or visit the website.

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