Everyone has heard it said that good things are possible thanks to volunteers. Valuable, appreciated, generous. Sometimes, the rhetoric behind community service feels a little hollow. The impact of volunteerism, however, is much less flimsy than the adjectives used to describe it suggest. When people really take a look at some of the facts and figures associated with volunteer work, it is staggering to see the impact that even a small donation of time or money has on populations in need.
Consider this: it is estimated that volunteers contribute more than $400 billion to the global economy each year. It’s not only organizations that deal with food shortages, indigent populations, and animals in need that rely on the donation of human resources and money. Programs that most citizens assume are handled by government agencies and tax dollars are often staffed largely with support from unpaid, volunteer staff.
South Sound organizations rely heavily on such organized help. Roxanne Miles, Community Engagement & Strategic Advancement Manager at Metro Parks Tacoma, says that citizens who give back are a big part of what make city works successful.
“Metro Parks wouldn’t be who or what we are without volunteers,” she said. “We have over 6,000 volunteers who contribute over 150,000 hours. Putting that in perspective, that’s the same number of hours 72 more employees would put in working full-time. Our system is much better with the community involved through volunteerism.”
Miles, who is currently seeking members for the Advisory Councils, adds that volunteers are also advocates. For example, citizen advisory council members, such as Miles hopes to recruit, contribute their time in providing valuable input about the needs and interests of the community. They influence policies and budgets, inform on operations and future projects, and are responsible for making recommendations to staff and board members at Metro Parks Tacoma.
For those who don’t have the time to donate, tax-deductible gifts to South Sound area charities and non-profits are always appreciated. Funding is an integral part to the efficiency of almost any public project. Monetary donations are the most valuable to making sure that people and projects will receive the help and attention they need to thrive. In lieu of a traditional gift, a trend among conscientious givers is to make a donation to a worthwhile cause in the name of the recipient. This lasting and thoughtful gesture definitely trumps a ubiquitous and unisex gift card to Starbucks.
Homelessness is a hardship that many Tacoma-area families face. Last year, the Catholic Community Services in Tacoma employed 3,274 people and 19,511 volunteers. Together, these men and women sheltered 108,174 homeless, and served almost 2 million meals. Families and individuals in need have a place to turn to thanks to the advocacy and man-hours of volunteers, combined with the generous donation of private funds, at shelters like the ones at CCS.
Sue Snoke, who works with veterans at the American Legion Post 67 in Puyallup, says that more and more veterans make up that homeless population. Sue and the Legion work with veterans, where members donate their time and resources regularly to the Old Soldiers Home in Orting, as well as a volunteer breakfast at Immanuel Lutheran Church for the homeless and unfortunate. Private citizens can donate time to their local American Legion chapters in Puyallup and Tacoma by connecting with officers online or in person.
Donations can also come in the form of a different kind of giving. Sierra Whitney, who works at the Puget Sound Blood Center, she says that so much of the work collecting blood is done thanks to help from volunteers. “People tend to believe that there is some sort of national blood supply,” she said, “but the truth is that many regions are serviced by specific blood centers. The Pacific Northwest, for example, is serviced mainly by the Puget Sound Blood Center.
“A lot of people can’t donate their time, and they don’t have money to spare. But when someone spends the 45 minutes to donate blood, they could save up to three lives.” Over 900 donors a day are needed to meet the demands of patients in area hospitals.
Speaking of hospitals, these provide a chance to give back, too. MultiCare, with offices in Puyallup and Tacoma, has several volunteer initiatives and programs, including a thrift store that supports community services called Granny’s Attic. Volunteers 16 and older can help out at St. Joseph’s in Tacoma, where each year more than 100,000 hours of community service comes to the hospital through special events, nursing units, and home care.
There are so many more ways to contribute to the South Sound—far too many to list, to be sure. If these great charities don’t sound interesting, there is still a way to give back out there for almost any aptitude and interest. Check out resources like Volunteer Match, Idealist, and Jackie’s Volunteer Network for great ideas for high school and college students. For citizens who want to keep it hyper local, Pierce County Parks and Recreation and Metro Parks Tacoma are a great place to start. There are even volunteer opportunities for people who want to donate their time exclusively online as grant writers, web designers, educators.
There is no wrong way to help. Whether by helping care for critters, building homes, or giving back to organizations that help put people back to work, volunteers make change happen. Be part of something big in the South Sound; take a little time, when you can find the time, to give back.
All photos courtesy of Tacoma Metro Parks.
This article originally appeared in the South Sound Talk December 4, 2014, and can be read here.