"There's never been a more important time than now to get involved," said Laura Plato, chief solutions officer for VolunteerMatch, an online platform that connects causes to people who want to be of service.
According to a study by Fidelity Charitable
, the coronavirus pandemic sharply impacted volunteer efforts, with two out of three volunteers decreasing or completely halting their work.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, about 93 percent of volunteering had been canceled. As we rounded out the year, it was about 80 percent," explained Plato.
"Many of the disaster response agencies have had a good portfolio of volunteers coming forward, but what we see is a lot of our smaller grassroots organizations are still really in need of people to help, raise funds, organize, advocate for their causes," Plato told CNN.
"It's important right now that we come together and figure out how to share and support each other."
The history of volunteer week
National Volunteer Week is an annual observance recognizing volunteers providing vital support in their communities. Additionally, the week encourages more people to consider volunteering. The first volunteer week started in Canada in 1943 to celebrate women's contributions on the homefront during World War II. In 1974, President Richard Nixon established National Volunteer Week with an executive order. Now, many countries worldwide have joined in.
The life of a consummate volunteer
Eighty-five-year-old Everette Burkard has been a volunteer driver for Meals on Wheels in Nevada County, California, for 30 years. He has clocked over 47,000 miles delivering meals to older adults facing hunger and isolation.
"I never imagined that volunteering would become a lifestyle, but it certainly has for me," he explained.
"It's something that's an enjoyable distraction."
Burkard says he began volunteering for Meals on Wheel in 1991 after retiring from a 40-year career with the Federal Civil Service. But that wasn't his first foray in giving back. Burkard served on his local school board, spent five years as a volunteer firefighter, and 20 years playing his Dobro guitar in a band called the Fruit Jar Pickers. They performed free of charge every Sunday morning at local assisted living facilities and convalescent hospitals around town. But he said Meals on Wheels has been the most gratifying volunteer experience.
"I got a chance to help people who couldn't get out and get food and talk with them a little bit and see how they were doing," Burkard told CNN.
"So, it was like a very personally rewarding thing to do."
Meals on Wheels suffered a decline in volunteers amid the pandemic, but Burkard continues to deliver as many older volunteers stepped back.
"I didn't even think about that; I just want to continue doing it."
As for what inspires Burkard to keep giving his time, "I think it's important for everybody to contribute something to their community rather than being an isolationist," said Burkard.
"And I was doing just that."
"We don't volunteer because we think we're better than somebody else; we do it because it just makes the world better," said VolunteerMatch's Laura Plato.
Although the pandemic has presented some barriers to traditional volunteerism, non-profits have gotten creative in finding ways to get volunteer support.
"This Volunteer Week is a chance to really get out there, get educated, get reinspired, reinvigorated, and think about how you can be of service either in person in your community or virtually and digitally online because there's lots of great opportunities to do both," Plato said.
"There are things that you can do with your hand and things you can do with your heart."
Here is how you can make a difference this Volunteer Week and beyond:
- Thank a volunteer -- Whether it's a gift, social media post, phone call, text message, or handwritten note, there are endless ways to tell those who give their time, "thank you." This week is a great time to celebrate and acknowledge the volunteer's service.