Senior volunteers save charitable organizations

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 
photoVolunteer Billy Emmett, 29, lines up bags of food that will be distributed to 1,200 local schoolchildren through the Share Backpack Program.

(/The Columbian)

Buy this photo

Related stories

Local charities feel pinch as donor fatigue, economy take toll

More local charities look to Internet as donors hesitate

While dollar donations are down across the board, heartfelt effort is helping to backfill the gift gap.

The Interfaith Treasure House, a multifaceted charity agency in Washougal, has one full-time staff member: executive director Nancy Wilson. It’s the cadre of 150 volunteers that really keep the place from sinking: clerks, managers, sorters, bread runners, box packers, commodity gatherers and distributors, cooks, servers. A few of them are younger folks but the vast majority are senior citizens, Wilson said.

“They are retired seniors in their 70s and 80s,” said Wilson. “They’re the best. They don’t miss days. There’s not a lot of turnover. They stay long-term and they are very dedicated.”

Volunteerism is making a difference at The Children’s Center, too. One group of church ladies sewed and donated nearly 400 stocking caps to the agency; a gentleman who builds wooden toy trucks called to ask if the kids might want some. These gifts are welcomed by a clientele that’s 98 percent below the poverty line, Hash said. The annual toy drive provides the only holiday presents many Children’s Center kids will get.

Perhaps the grand-prize winner for volunteerism is Share. The agency has a paid staff of 38, full- and part-time, but it’s approximately 2,000 volunteers who really make the place go, executive director Diane McWithey said. Those volunteers contributed 77,000 hours of labor last year and are on track to work 80,000 hours this year, she said.

Fellowship

Every Thursday morning, dozens of volunteers descend on the new Share Fromhold Service Center on Andresen Road to pack and distribute bags of weekend food for local schoolchildren. Share’s Backpack Program has grown in just a few years to supply weekend food for 1,200 of the neediest kids at 56 schools every Friday, according to coordinator Carla Christian.

“It’s doing something for humanity,” said Lloyd Warner, 88, who also serves food at Share’s hot meal service one day per month. “We are there to serve the needs of people who are in need. That’s my philosophy.”

“It’s enjoyable and it’s a little fellowship together,” said Joe Smith, 76. “It gives us old codgers something to do.”

“Honestly, the impact of a program like this is so great,” said Becky Parker, who recently regained a little personal freedom because her two children are both in school. She’s made Thursday her volunteering day, she said. “You are getting food directly into the hands of people who need it. What other program helps like that?”

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; Twitter: col_nonprofits; scott.hewitt@columbian.com.