Edmonton non-profits search for volunteers as holiday season approaches

Win some, lose some — that may be the motto for Edmonton non-profit organizations as the COVID-19 pandemic throws a new wrench into the charitable season.

Meals on Wheels, Citadel Theatre among those putting out the call for help

Meals on Wheels is one organization that requires all volunteers to be vaccinated for COVID-19. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

Win some, lose some — that may be the motto for Edmonton non-profit organizations as the COVID-19 pandemic throws a new wrench into the charitable season.

Institutions like Meals on Wheels have consistent, reliable volunteers who prepare and deliver food but last week, the organization put out a call for more drivers. 

Tim Hanson, a fund development manager with Meals on Wheels, said it's not unusual to put the call out. 

"It happens all the time," Hanson told CBC News. "We're always looking for more people as we keep up with the fluctuation in volunteers." 

But the call for drivers last week came shortly after the organization told their volunteers that everyone must have a double COVID-19 vaccination to continue making and delivering meals. 

Hanson noted that volunteers have until Nov. 15 to get a double dose. 

Penny Coates usually works two shifts a week delivering meals to about 10 people each day this week, she took an extra shift to compensate for a shortage. 

"I know of one driver and possibly two that won't get vaccinated," Coates told CBC News Thursday. "I would have thought that the volunteers would understand and just be vaccinated. Turns out they're not — when they said, 'You have to be,' they lost people." 

The number of clients using the Meals on Wheels nearly doubled from 2019 to about 4,400 in 2020, Hanson said.

Venues reopen

Other groups face challenges getting volunteers to return in the midst of a pandemic.

Some venues, like theatres and concert halls, were closed for a year or more. 

Kimberlee Stadelmann, associate executive director at the Citadel Theatre, said about half of the theatre's former volunteers are coming back, leaving a shortage. 

Typically, the theatre has 100 volunteers who act as ushers, welcoming and seating patrons, taking tickets and selling food and drinks at the concession stands. 

"Some are just not comfortable yet being in crowds and helping crowds of people," Stadelmann said. "The majority of our volunteers are retirees so they're in a bit of a high-risk category."

They recently put a call out for volunteers and received 100 applicants in a day and a half. 

"We were surprised and thrilled by that response," Stadelmann said in an interview Thursday. 

The theatre also requires proof of vaccination and she noted a small minority of volunteers are refusing to get their double dose. 

Kimberlee Stadelmann, associate executive director at the Citadel Theatre, said they received 100 new applicants for volunteer positions this week. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

The theatre allowing up to 50 per cent of its full capacity right now, but by the holiday season, Stadelmann said they're hoping to invite back up to 90 per cent. 

Emma Wallace, a program specialist with the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, said they have heard some are reluctant to get vaccinated but it's still a relatively small number.

"A lot of our organizations recognize the value of being vaccinated," Wallace said. "It's going to help their communities grow, it's going to support their clients, it's going to support their staff."

While some organizations have sufficient volunteers, Wallace noted that others are struggling to find what they need. 

Coates said she's confident more drivers will either get vaccinated or others will join the effort. 

"People will step up — it would be wonderful if more stepped up, it really would," Coates said. "I find it a very rewarding activity, I have enjoyed it from the get-go." 



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