Help wanted: Pandemic has put additional stress on local non-profits

December 2021 Posted in Community

By Stephen Floyd

The Great Resignation has pummeled the private sector, with record numbers of employers across the country struggling to fill open positions.

A sign seeking volunteers in the window of ReVamp in downtown Silverton. The non-profit thrift store has been struggling to recruit helpers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local restaurants and retailers are seeking new hires, too. While societal shifts from the COVID-19 pandemic maybe partially responsible, other factors like baby boomer retirements also play a part.

Volunteerism for some area nonprofits has been impacted, too. While the community is eager to support its neighbors, some groups are hurting for helpers.

ReVamp, at 207 High St., is a downtown Silverton thrift store and main revenue source for the Silverton Senior Center. It has been struggling to recruit and retain volunteers since the start of the pandemic.

Manager Russell Olivera said most of their volunteer base was made of seniors who were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and had to step down for fear of exposure in a retail setting. Though vaccines are now available, the risks of breakthrough infections, and threats posed by variants like Delta and Omicron, have kept volunteer
numbers low.

“We’re still in desperate need,” he said. “People just don’t know what to do still, and everybody’s just getting burned out.”

The store has stayed open, but many volunteers work double shifts or work alone to cover store hours. 

Olivera said the shop has recently enlisted some younger volunteers in time for the holiday season, but as a business that is entirely volunteer-dependent they need all the support the community can provide.

“We have a very good, loving community here,” he said of Silverton. “It is amazing to me how friendly and loving people are here.”

The Oregon Garden’s volunteer program is also still recovering from pandemic losses. While they have seen new helpers join since 2020, recruitment remains lower than normal and some of the volunteers who stepped down at the start of the pandemic have not returned.

Alyssa Roth, volunteer and membership coordinator for Oregon Garden, said it is understandable people want to protect their health and safety, adding those who have yet to return are missed.

This time of year, there’s a particular need for horticulture volunteers to weed, prune, remove leaves and plant bulbs. While a dedicated crew comes in weekly for these tasks, they are a small group and could use more support, said Roth.

Aside from pandemic challenges, Roth said the cold and wet weather could be impacting recruitment, as most of the work is outdoors, although this does make social distancing easier. 

She also said some in the community may not be aware of the need for helpers. She encouraged anyone who has work gloves and a good attitude to consider signing up.

“Regardless of skill level, we always find a way to involve our volunteers in a way that is meaningful to them,” said Roth. “We love folks with prior gardening experience, but we also love when volunteers show up eager and willing to learn.”

Silverton Area Community Aid (SACA) experienced a significant drop in volunteers at the start of the pandemic. But after successful recruiting efforts and community members reaching out to help, SACA is heading into Christmastime with ample staff.

“We’re doing good,” said program coordinator Patti Waters. “Especially around the holidays, people want to
give back.”

While some COVID-19 changes are still in place, like distributing food from the parking lot instead of inside their building at 421 S Water St., Waters said they hope to move back indoors soon. She also said they are continuing to help more people amid the pandemic, with fewer limitations on how frequently someone can pick up a box of food.

SACA still has room for more helpers. Waters said volunteers will receive the training and support they need to be successful.

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