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National Volunteer Week in April

Rural areas especially require a large number of volunteers to keep things happening

Are you one of the many Manitobans who volunteer — either with time, money or gifts in kind? The percentage of tax filers in Manitoba who make charitable donations is the highest per capita of all provinces, and has been so for many years.

Many of us belong to a variety of non-profit organizations. In MacGregor, besides all the volunteer activities carried out by community churches, there are organizations like Lions Club, Kinettes, Communities in Bloom, the volunteer firefighters and the Hospital Aid Auxiliary that regularly hold events to raise money for needed programs. Your town probably has similar organizations.

Some of the money goes to national organizations such as the Alzheimer Society, Heart Fund, or Canadian Diabetes Association, but much money is also raised for local projects. Last year, the MacGregor Lions donated towards our new assisted-living home, funded public skating and rink renovations, and assisted local families with medical problems. The Centennial Park Committee fundraised to fix walking trails, playground equipment and picnicking facilities. The Hospital Auxiliary raised money for our care home and the Kinettes for the emergency fund, while the firefighters fundraised for a new quad-type vehicle for rescue purposes.

In MacGregor, the North Norfolk Community Foundation serves as a moving force to direct money to various town and municipal needs, as well as overseeing several scholarships for the local high school.

But it’s not just money that is needed; it is time and work, and volunteers provide this, too. Some act as coaches or managers for sports like hockey, soccer, basketball, volleyball and skiing. Others provide driving services for people going to medical appointments, or deliver meals-on-wheels. They visit the sick or those in long-term care. Dedicated firefighters are ready when needed. Volunteers shelve books in the library, keep records at the archives and help out at MCC second-hand stores. They serve on committees, recruit workers, and make plans. In Portage la Prairie and other rural communities, volunteers have helped construct homes for Habitat For Humanity.

Two big projects underway in MacGregor right now are the Assisted-Care Living Centre and the Centennial Park Committee, both spearheaded by dedicated volunteers. Other communities, such as Brandon, Portage la Prairie, Altona and Winkler are involved right now with Syrian refugee projects — finding housing, furnishings etc. for them, as well as providing various supports.

Rural areas, particularly, cannot run without a huge volunteer effort. Who spearheads cleaning up the campground and collecting fees? Who plants and weeds flower beds along the main street and at the local care home? Who provides the singing at funerals, or the lunch afterwards? Who sits on the various boards and plans and runs activities for the golf club, teen centre, library, senior centre, community garden, cross-country ski club… The list goes on and on!

Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly difficult to find enough new volunteers. Younger people are often just too busy to take on anything else. In most homes, both parents are working full-time jobs as well as keeping up with all the activities their children are involved in. Such parents often willingly provide money, but time may not be available.

A large number of volunteers is seniors. In our local Hospital Auxiliary, for example, the majority of members is over 65. Some of these suffer “burnout” or simply cannot continue, so it is imperative that we recruit younger members if we hope to carry on.

According to Statistics Canada, approximately 25 per cent of Manitobans claimed donations on their 2013 tax form (the latest information available). But donating money is only one part of charitable giving. Time and energy are a bigger part of what is needed to meet challenges and accomplish goals. If there were statistics for time and energy donated, Manitobans — especially in rural areas — would also rank high.

This year’s National Volunteer Week is April 10 to16. Let’s take this opportunity to recognize, celebrate and thank Canada’s 12.7 million volunteers!

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