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Volunteer Boom!

Posted on 5/5/2009 12:06:59 PM
Author: Kim Kilbride

Area nonprofits find more people are willing to lend a hand.

Tribune Staff Writer

The Food Bank of Northern Indiana is a charity that Wilma Frankland supported financially for years.

But when she retired from her nursing job about a year ago, Frankland, of South Bend, no longer had the cash to spare.

So instead, she spends a day or two a week volunteering in the organization's warehouse, sorting and labeling food and making new friends.

"It's wonderful here," she said via phone last Monday during a break from her work there. "We have a good time, laugh a lot ... and boost each other's morale."

Because her investments have taken a beating, Frankland said she's now looking for part-time work. 

Still, she has no plans to give up volunteering any time soon.

Richard Chapla, volunteer coordinator for the food bank, said these days the organization is averaging seven regular volunteers every day. A year ago, that number was closer to one.

Many of those people, he said, are between jobs, looking for something rewarding to do to fill their time until they find work.

The food bank is not alone.

Nonprofits, as well as agencies that serve as liaisons between volunteers and organizations they serve, from the Humane Society of St. Joseph County to the Center for the Homeless, report a significant uptick in the number of people coming forward in the past few months to volunteer. 

"We track Web hits," said Andrew Lynn, program director for Make a Difference Michiana, an Internet-based agency that hooks up potential volunteers with more than 300 area nonprofit agencies. "In November, December, January, that (the number of hits to the Web site) skyrocketed."

Lynn thinks the community's need for volunteers has been well publicized during this economicdownturn and is likely the driving force behind the new interest in volunteerism.

"People are inclined to respond when they see a need," he said.

Stepping up 

Last week in South Bend, 20 Court Appointed Special Advocates for children were sworn in.

That's double the number that usually commit to the 30-plus hours of training, background checks, drug testing and 18 months of service to become a CASA volunteer here.

Brenda Matuszkiewicz, executive director of CASA of St. Joseph County, said having so many volunteers come forward is a great thing for the organization and the children it serves.

Vicki Riel of South Bend is one of those new volunteers.

She's served the community in a number of volunteer capacities, she said, but this position is different. 

"It's one thing to stuff envelopes," she said, "but I felt this was really a labor of love."

She decided to become a CASA volunteer after hearing about the need via an ad campaign.

"In other volunteer opportunities, you don't get to know the people (you're serving)," she said. "You brush their lives for a few minutes or an hour. ... With this, you get to know the terrible, confidential issues of a child and their family."

Meanwhile, Peter Lombardo, director of community involvement at the Center for the Homeless in South Bend, said more people have been coming forward during the past few months there, too, to help out with everything from serving in the kitchen to assisting the kids who live there with homework.

"In fact," he said, "we had a volunteer orientation last week — April is not usually a month where many would come — but we had 18." Historically, he said, eight or 10 people have shown up for training sessions in April. 

Many of the center's new volunteers are parents who want their kids to recognize the needs in the community and lend a hand to help meet some of them.

Lombardo believes, too, that more people are taking President Barack Obama's call-to-service message to heart.

Sarah Hendrix, project coordinator for the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program of St. Joseph and Elkhart counties, said her organization has also noticed an increase in the number of people willing to volunteer.

"The biggest boom has been in the last few months," she said.

She estimates that interest in volunteering with the roughly 80 agencies the organization works with is up 50 percent to 70 percent. 

Hendrix sai

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