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Volunteerism down in Utah; some blame the pandemic and economy

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Daily Herald | Apr 22, 2023
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Volunteers paint a map of the United States as one of the many school Day of Caring projects Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022.
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Volunteers prepare donations for the United Way's Sub for Santa program at the United Way office in Provo on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022.
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Volunteers sort food at Tabitha's Way Food Pantry in Spanish Fork in this undated photo.
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Thanksgiving Point volunteers planted an average of 250 bulbs each to help the organization set a new Guinness World Record for Most Flower Bulbs Planted in One Hour on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022.
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Volunteers with Professional Women in Building help a child install a doorknob at the St. Jude Dream Home in Saratoga Springs on Thursday, March 16, 2023.

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.


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