Juneau’s volunteer workforce not immune to lingering pandemic effects

Frank and Crystal Johnson are volunteers from the Lion’s Club that lend their time at Helping Hands food pantry in Juneau. “I get to come down here and meet people and just get to say ‘hi’ and have that chance to do something nice that makes somebody say, ‘Ooh, I kind of matter,’” Johnson said. November 4, 2022. (Claire Stremple/KTOO)

Some Juneau nonprofits have struggled to find volunteers over the last year. It’s a serious problem for organizations that rely on unpaid staff. 

Laurie Wolf, the president and CEO of Alaska’s Foraker Group says that’s something she’s seen statewide — and it’s linked to a national phenomenon of people leaving or changing jobs.

“Not unlike in the workplace, where we’re seeing the great resignation and the great reshuffle in how people are choosing to spend their work time, we’re also seeing that same reflection in people’s volunteer time,” said Laurie Wolf, the president and CEO of Alaska’s Foraker Group.

The organization works directly with many of Alaska’s volunteer boards by offering support and training.

“People are really taking stock about how they want to spend their free time,” she said. “Do they want to be board members? Do they want to be volunteers?”

Wolf says she’s seen two main outcomes of the pandemic for Alaska nonprofits — they either needed to ramp up services because of increased demand or close down for public health reasons.

A Meals on Wheels staff member preparing food. Courtesy of Catholic Community Service.

In Juneau, there’s evidence of that trend. Marianne Mills is the program director for Southeast Senior Services, which runs the Meals on Wheels delivery service.

“Since the pandemic, it’s been a real challenge finding enough volunteers because the number of routes have doubled,” she said.

Meals and Wheels has struggled to find volunteers since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Helping Hands food pantry has served Juneau for nearly four decades, but it will be closing at the end of the month. The pandemic shut down its typical fundraising events, and there aren’t enough volunteers to staff the operation.

“I’m basically down to one volunteer that’s been doing everything,” said Karen Fortwengler, the organization’s director. “Trust me, this was not an easy decision.”

Claire Stremple

Alaska News Reporter, KTOO

I believe every Alaskan has a right to timely information about their health and health systems, and their natural environment and its management. My goal is to report thoughtful stories that inform, inspire and quench the curiosity of listeners across the state.

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