“Without volunteers, the community lacks a heart,” said Lance Hannesson, poppy chairperson and past president of the Rimbey Legion. “Rimbey, without its volunteers and the programming they supply to the community, you end up with a place to live and that’s it. There’s no heart and there’s no soul.”
Several organizations in Rimbey are struggling to find enough volunteers and it’s impacting the services that can be offered in town.
Kim Blondin, vice-president with the Citizens On Patrol (COP), said countless hours have been poured into creating the group, but they’re struggling to keep it afloat without volunteers.
“We were really tired of hearing everyone complain about all of the crime and property damage and no one doing anything about it, so we decided to start the group so we could be the eyes and ears of the community,” Blondin explained. “Right now, we’ve got about eight people doing everything. When we started out, (on) day one, we had a town meeting and over 200 people came out. And now we’re down to about eight to 10 people who come out to the meetings and do the patrols.”
Blondin said she’s not sure why the volunteers dropped off, since everyone seemed eager to help in the beginning.
“We don’t ask for that much, really,” she said, adding that there is a process to become a volunteer, such as getting a criminal record check. “We have a meeting once a month and hopefully a person can do a patrol or two a month.”
Blondin said people can choose how long to patrol, and volunteers use their vehicles to do the patrolling.
“We have kits you take with you, which have everything you need – a flashlight, first aid kit, a notebook. If you see anything, you can record it and report it to the RCMP.”
The COP is important for community safety, Blondin said, and everyone can watch out for each other.
“I do believe COP makes a difference. I know when we were running full speed, the crime was down and the police were telling us we were helping and making a difference,” she said. “We just need more help now, and more volunteers would be great.”
The COP meetings are held the first Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. in the Lions room. For more information people can contact email@example.com.
In the past, Blondin has also volunteered with FCSS, helping seniors with their income tax, and she has also delivered food with Meals On Wheels.
Peggy Makofka, executive director with Rimbey FCSS, said volunteer positions are worked into every level of their organization as part of their mandate.
FCSS provides many services that require volunteers, such as Meals On Wheels, delivering hot meals to residents who are perhaps isolated and can’t always cook for themselves, and the food bank also relies on volunteers to help stock shelves, prep food, pack hampers, work in the toy room for Christmas hampers and much more.
“Volunteering is just part of a well-balanced life, in my opinion,” said Makofka. “For the recipient, some of these services we provide, they might not be able to afford it otherwise or it might not even be available – a friendly visitor, a hot meal, someone providing a food hamper, you can’t get those things if a volunteer isn’t involved.”
Volunteering for FCSS, like many other organizations, isn’t a quick and easy process. Potential volunteers need to apply by filling out an application, getting a criminal record check and going through an interview with the FCSS co-ordinator.
“We have to be sure that we can protect the privacy of our clients and that everyone is safe,” Makofka explained.
Hannesson said the smaller Legions across Alberta, and across Canada, are struggling to build their membership and their bank of volunteers.
“The Legion is made up of veterans and then it was opened up that anyone can join, but people still think it’s an old boys club even though that’s changed,” he said. “We are looking for people to join.”
A dwindling membership means the Legion can’t do everything it used to do.
“The last few years we’ve held our Remembrance Day ceremony outside and we didn’t need as many people,” Hannesson said. “This year, we’ve decided to hold it indoors again and invite the whole community. We were getting 400 people into the community centre for our Nov. 11 ceremony, and that’s great because that’s what we do it for, for the community to gather together and remember those that have served. So we want to do this, but how do we do it when we only have 12 to 15 members that can come and work?”
Hannesson said the Legion has had to reach out to other clubs to see if they can help and the Rimbey Lions Club will be helping the Legion members during the Remembrance Day ceremony this year.
“We all have to start relying on other community groups to make a community event happen,” he said. “And until we can get our numbers back up, that’s the way the Rimbey Legion is going to have to work if we have a big event like this.”
Hannesson said that volunteer burnout is a real issue, with so few people having to take on so many jobs.
“People volunteer because they care,” he said. “What we need is for everyone that can, to give some time; and show their kids how important it is, because the kids will be the volunteers of the future.”