The cut-back on COVID-19 restrictions is prompting Manitoban charities, festivals and organizations to return to in-person events, but finding volunteers is becoming a bigger challenge than in previous years.
The Manitoba Marathon’s first full-scale event in years is two weeks away.
Upwards of 6,000 runners have signed up, but executive director Rachel Munday says their volunteer turnout is down by 30 per cent.
“It might not seem very much when you say 30 per cent, but every volunteer that we have is needed. Everyone does an important role.”
Munday says prior to the pandemic, the Manitoba Marathon had a manageable handful of helpers not return each year, but with three years passed, the number has become exponentially larger.
“It’s not that people don’t want to volunteer,” she says. “I think it’s just like a culmination of all these years of not putting a race on.”
Volunteer Manitoba’s communication manager, Dawn Bourbonnais, says it’s “a perfect storm of a lot of different things” that are contributing to a volunteer shortage.
“I think we’re in a period where the last two years is meeting the next two years. We’ve scaled back on volunteers right across the board over the pandemic.”
According to Bourbonnais, most volunteers are senior citizens who, for a number of reasons, are hesitant to offer their time.
Aside from health risks related to the pandemic, she says people’s attitudes around donating spare time have changed in recent years.
“Everybody’s just coming out of the long winter that we’ve had and gone, ‘Wait, I can do things in person again,'” she says. “So it’s competition for people’s time.
“All of us have redefined what our time means to us in the last two years. We’ve all looked at the value of our time and where to best deploy it.”
Bourbonnais says organizations might have to change the way they recruit helpers by offering shorter shifts and emphasizing the impact their time would have on the community. She also says having a volunteer manager on the team is critical.
“When you lose that connection with your volunteer team and you lose that sort of that leader, that grand marshal, the champion of what it is you’re doing and the person who’s responsible for recruiting those volunteers and making sure that they’re properly engaged within the organization — if you don’t have that person there, then you’re going to see a loss.”
Munday says plans are underway to have a safe event with the volunteers they have, but extra help won’t be turned away.
“We like to respect everybody’s time and make it fun, and so the more people we can find to come out in any capacity, the better — the better it is for us and for all of our other volunteers as well.”
Anyone interested in helping out can head to the Manitoba Marathon website and check out the opportunities listed on the volunteer page.