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Volunteerism down in Utah; some blame the pandemic and economy

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Apr 22, 2023
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Rachel Martin grabs rolls of toilet paper to load into people's cars on Friday, April 3, 2020, at Catholic Community Services. Because of COVID-19 social distancing restrictions at the time, the food bank had not been using volunteers and people were staying in their vehicles to pick up their food.
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Volunteers for the My Hometown Ogden initiative are pictured doing service work at an Ogden home on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.
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Bob Cannon poses at Union Station while volunteering through Weber County's Retired Senior Volunteer Program on Monday, April 30, 2018.
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Volunteers at Tri-City Exchange in North Ogden distribute food to a line of cars outside of its warehouse at 2067 N. Washington Blvd. on Friday, May 14, 2021.

Despite being among the top 10 states for its residents’ generous volunteerism, Utah has seen a drop over the past couple of years, and that could be attributed to the pandemic and economic hardships.

According to a survey conducted by AmericCorps, Utah had the highest-in-the-nation volunteer participation rate of 40.7% in 2021. The state is No. 1 for formal volunteering and seventh for informal volunteering.

Gov. Spencer Cox, during an appearance Wednesday at Payson High School, boasted of the state’s passion for giving back. “We lead the nation in volunteerism and charitable giving every single year. That matters because when we take care of each other, then we thrive as a community, as a society,” he said.

Still, the most recent figures that are available show an 8.8% drop.

Heidi Wade, director of Senior Companion Program in Ogden administered through Weber Human Services, said when she was getting senior volunteers re-engaged with their passion for volunteerism after the pandemic, some people jumped right back into service and picked up where they left off.

“But we also had some that were scared to be near others for fear of getting sick,” she said. “On top of that challenge were the seniors that simply could not resume their volunteering because their health would not allow it. There has been a significant increase in senior volunteers who had to leave the program due to medical issues since the pandemic.”

Wade said it’s been very difficult for the senior community to get back to their normal, pre-pandemic routines due to fear or health issues, and adds she believes those are the biggest obstacles in getting them to return.

Jan Gardner, volunteer recruiting specialist for the Senior Companion, RSVP and the Foster Grandparent programs, said volunteering is down across the board.

“We have seen a drop in volunteering since COVID. However, the economic factor is now playing a big part to why volunteering in our programs are down,” she said. “Individuals are having to go back to work to afford food and housing.”

According to AmeriCorps, an estimated 23.2% of Americans, or 60.7 million people formally volunteered for organizations between September 2020 and 2021. That rate dropped seven percentage points from 30% in 2019.

In Utah, the formal volunteering rate for women dropped 8% and was down 5% for men. Generation X, comprising people age 41-56, had the highest formal volunteering rate of all generations.

Several organizations are in need of volunteers, including the Center for Grieving Children, Davis County Meals on Wheels, The Weber County Sport Shooting Complex, Seager Memorial Clinic, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Catholic Community Services, local animal shelters and more. The Senior Companion Program even offers a small monthly stipend for low income volunteers.


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