Toronto Pandemic Volunteering: Part 2

Last week, we started a two-part series on Volunteering in Toronto with this article. This week, we conclude the series by talking directly with Cara Eaton. Cara is the Director of Strategic Communications at Volunteer Toronto, an organization that connects volunteers to the causes that need them within the city. Hope you enjoy!

  1. Tell me a little bit about your organization: it’s purpose and how it started. 

Volunteer Toronto is Canada’s largest volunteer centre with 45+ years of experience connecting volunteers to the causes that need them. Volunteer Toronto has roots that go back nearly a century. In response to needs, the “Community Social Council of Toronto” was formed during the Great Depression. The Council was charged with managing Toronto’s growing human and infrastructure capital for the common good. In 1937, the Council split into two bodies: Social Planning Toronto and Volunteer Toronto.​ In 1973, Volunteer Toronto incorporated as a charity, solidifying our role as a key part of social infrastructure for non-profits and members of the public located in Toronto.

2. Do you find that the pandemic has caused a greater need for volunteers? Is that need being met?

During the pandemic, there are more volunteers looking to get involved but fewer positions available due to the impact of lockdown measures on non-profit programs. This has meant the role of volunteer centres, like Volunteer Toronto, is imperative to managing the supply and demand of volunteer participation to ensure support is funneled where it is needed most. However, like never before people have stepped up to help their neighbors. We have seen a surge of new grassroots initiatives pop-up over the past year to meet immediate needs—organizations like the People’s Pantry, the Bike Brigade, and all of groups that made masks for frontline workers. 

Needs will change in the coming months. And volunteers that stepped up to fill needs during the pandemic because they were available will step back from those roles. Non-profits will also begin to resume volunteer programs as restrictions ease. Given these shifts, we anticipate a wave of recruitment and re-engagement of volunteers in 2022 and hope volunteer interest will sustain to meet our recovery needs. 

3. If people want to volunteer in Toronto, do they know where to go? Is that an issue? If so, how can it be resolved?

We often hear that members of the public don’t know Volunteer Toronto exists, but that they are impressed when they find out about the wide array of services we provide to both non-profits and members of the public looking to get involved. Reality is, the volunteer landscape in Toronto can be hard to navigate. Many volunteer roles with non-profits require additional screening, such as Police Checks, Vulnerable Sector Screening, and reference checks. These steps are taken to protect clients that volunteers may serve. However, for newcomers, high school students or others, these can be barriers to getting involved. 

If members of the public feel overwhelmed by options, or want advice on application processes for volunteer roles, our Volunteer Advisors are ready to help. Book an appointment, give us a call or send an email inquiry for assistance:

4. What if people want to volunteer, but don’t know exactly for “what”, is there a way to help them choose where to go?

Yes! See above response re: Volunteer Advisors. 

5. Right now, where do you think is the greatest need for volunteers in the city?

The most in need role right now is Volunteer Drivers, who deliver food and PPE to vulnerable populations. With so many more seniors isolating, demand has skyrocketed yet the populations that often fill these roles (seniors) are also at high-risk. We need drivers who can deliver meals midday at a number of organizations in Toronto, and especially in Scarborough. If you want to become a driver, you can sign up to be pre-screened and matched with an organization in need here:

6. What age do you think parents should be teaching their children to volunteer?

Volunteering is a part of our Canadian identity, we rely on volunteers for some of our most essential social services. Research also shows that youth who have a positive experience the first time they volunteer will become lifelong volunteers. There is no age “too young” to start teaching children about their civic responsibility and the value of giving back. Many youth share with Volunteer Toronto how volunteering has been a stepping stone to their education or career goals, often shaping them completely. Many more share that it was a parent or guardian that instilled the importance of volunteering in their own lives. The best way to start to involve your children is to be a role model. Become a volunteer and share your experiences with your family and network. Invite them to participate, if appropriate, and look for ways in your own community to offer grassroots or micro-support. This could mean holding a small fundraiser for a cause you care about, helping once a week for your child’s school’s breakfast program or offering to weed your senior neighbour’s garden. Small gestures can lead to a lifetime of volunteering. 

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