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Helping Hands issues urgent plea for volunteers

Desperate need for volunteers is forcing agency to refuse new clients

Helping Hands is in dire need of more helping hands.

“As of right now, the need for volunteers is desperate and we are unable to bring on any new clients because of that,” says Teri Soukup, the non-profit agency’s vice-president of operations. “It’s the first time since I’ve been here (three years) that we’ve been unable to take on new clients.”

Soukup said drivers are urgently needed to transport clients to medical appointments and a variety of other destinations. In addition, the Orillia agency administers a popular Meals on Wheels program that is also in dire need of more volunteer drivers.

Bill Sherwin has been a volunteer driver for the Meals on Wheels program for almost a quarter of a century. The spry 91-year-old said volunteering keeps him active; it’s something he looks forward to.

“When I retired, I wanted to keep on working in the community and this job came up and it’s been the best thing that ever happened to me,” said the retired minister. “It gives me something to do. Everybody has to have a reason for getting up in the morning: My reason is to help somebody else.”

Last year, volunteers donated 1,909 hours to deliver 13,869 meals – some hot, some frozen – to Helping Hands clients. In total, the agency’s 150 volunteers donated more than 20,000 hours of service, driving more than 158,000 kilometres.

As he was preparing to leave to deliver 12 hot, healthy meals earlier this week, Sherwin said: “People are expecting me to deliver meals … I don’t want to let them down.”

He stressed the job is about more than just dropping off the food. “You meet people in their homes, ask them how they are,” he said. “You don’t just throw the meal on a table. You stay and chat. You develop a rapport, I’d guess you say.”

While Sherwin has been faithfully delivering meals for decades, Soukup acknowledges he is a bit of an anomaly. Often, as people age, they are forced, for a variety of reasons, to give up volunteering.

“That’s definitely one of the challenges we’re facing,” she said. “Some are not able to physically drive any more. We lose some in the winter who are snowbirds and, in the summer, some spend more time at the cottage, so it’s a constant struggle. But it’s particularly bad right now.”

She said just about anyone can volunteer to help fill the void that is threatening service to the region’s most vulnerable citizens.

“All you need is a vulnerable sector (check) and to come in and fill out an application,” said Soukup, noting the agency foots the bill for the police check.

And if you are interested, you are encouraged to act sooner rather than later.

“When I first started, we had almost 150 volunteers and we are down now to about 80,” she said.

The commitment is tailored to the individual. She said you can volunteer for as little as one-half day a week or weekend.

“For example, we do our Meals on Wheels program every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and each route is about three hours,” she said, noting couples enjoy doing this activity together.

There is also an option to use your own vehicle or to drive one of Helping Hands’ vehicles. If a volunteer uses their own vehicle, they are compensated at a rate of 40 cents per kilometre to help cover gas and maintenance costs.

Soukop thinks many citizens, who see the multiple vehicles emblazoned with Helping Hands logos driving around town, believe paid employees are filling the need.

“We have five paid drivers (four full-time), but the rest are volunteers – the vast majority of driving is done by volunteers,” she said.

Sherwin encourages people of all ages to step up. “People are very grateful,” he said of those he delivers meals to. “Everybody needs to be needed. This is a great way to help people.”

If you are interested in volunteering, call Barb Martin at 705-325-4299 ext. 248 or email [email protected] You can also drop into their office, Unit 13A at 575 West St. S. (Willow Court Plaza, near the Highway 12 bypass) to fill out an application.

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