Valuable volunteers are in shorter supply than ever, forcing some community organizations to make critical decisions about whether certain events can remain viable.
Since the COVID shutdown, the pool of volunteers has dried up and Chemainus is among the communities experiencing that malady.
“The need has been so great that we have seen program cancellations and postponement of beloved events and it threatens the continuation of numerous vital programs and initiatives that give the town its unique character,” noted Krystal Adams, the executive director for the Chemainus Business Improvement Association.
“Volunteering is the backbone of any community and Chemainus is no exception,” she added. “It’s the driving force behind successful events, cultural preservation, many community-run programs and the maintenance of vital organizations.”
Adams cited the example of the 2022 Cowichan Craft Beer and Food Festival, a much-anticipated event that brought joy to the community and served as great exposure for the town, with 2,000 people attending.
“We had such limited volunteers the year before that the event almost didn’t happen that year,” Adams indicated. “We tried for months, we even offered paid positions and saw very few step forward. When we started to look at doing it this summer, we spoke to many local groups who were badly hurting from the lack of volunteer involvement. When speaking to people around town, everyone was excited to attend but few wanted to volunteer. We didn’t want this to be cancelled at the last minute because of this, so we made the painful decision to make this a biennial event, happening once every two years so we could take 6-8 months to get the 30+ volunteers we need – if we can for 2024.”
The cancellation echoes a broader trend where several programs and initiatives are being scaled back or eliminated due to the lack of volunteer manpower.
A prime illustration of the current situation is the Canada Day event that drew thousands of people to Chemainus. Organized by the CBIA, the event had a mere two individuals leading the charge, supported by just four volunteers managing the booths.
Local businesses sent employees to scoop ice cream and others stepped in to help when the CBIA had to start closing down other things planned because either people didn’t show up for their volunteer shift or there was nobody to step in.
The event turned out to be a success, but it highlighted the unsustainable nature of relying on such a small group of volunteers to orchestrate large-scale celebrations that define community spirit, Adams pointed out.
Organizations like the Chemainus Valley Museum, the Chemainus Valley Cultural Arts Society, the Visitor Centre, Chemainus Harvest House Food Bank, Cowichan Neighbourhood House Association and Chemainus Communities in Bloom are all grappling with volunteer shortages. Without adequate volunteer support, they face difficulties in upholding their missions and providing the community with the experiences it deserves.
“We have had a hard time keeping our doors open five days a week from 10:30 to 2:30,” Kathryn Asp, CNHA president, noted. “When the public is in the building, we need a minimum of two people working on the floor. It’s tough because the need is growing for our services, but without public support it becomes difficult to provide the service.
“We need people who have the ability to give up an hour or two a week to support food security and community well-being in and around Chemainus. We are always looking for people with ideas who would like to run their own programs in our facility, with our assistance.”
Adams said the call for volunteers in Chemainus is not just a plea for assistance; it’s a rallying cry to reignite the town’s true essence.
“By participating in volunteering efforts, community members can reclaim their stake in shaping Chemainus’ future. The impact of volunteering reaches far beyond event logistics – it’s about fostering a sense of unity, pride and shared purpose.”
The CBIA’s Fall Festival and Fun Run is coming up on Oct. 28, the only festival of its type in the valley.
“We have lofty goals of bringing the community together to celebrate fall, Halloween and raise money for the Harvest House in time for the December holiday – their greatest food need,” Adams remarked. “But, we are desperately needing volunteers to make this happen, even some to take a stake and drive forward fun programs like pie judging contests and carnival games. Without volunteers helping to drive it forward, I’m not sure how much we will be able to accomplish.”
The time to act is now, Adams stressed, and through collective effort, Chemainus can reclaim its former glory and embark on a new era of prosperity and togetherness.
Click on visitchemainus.ca, go to About and find the volunteer page in the drop-down menu.
“Fill out the volunteer form to select the places you think may be a good fit with and only they will contact you,” Adams noted. “Or get in touch with an organization that you are interested in. We need your help to keep this town resilient and vibrant. And for those of you who have helped over the many years through rain or shine, we literally could not have done it without you.
“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for holding this community up.”