Dayton charities plagued by low volunteering numbers

Photo of the Dayton skyline courtesy of Wikimedia.

Lucinda Judd | Business Manager

As the United States enters year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Gallup poll has found that the percentage of adults that donate to charities has bounced back, but levels of volunteering are still low and Dayton charities have felt the effects as well.

According to the poll published mid-January of 2022, the amount of charitable donations in the U.S. decreased during April 2020, around the beginning of the pandemic. The numbers only fall lower when comparing secular and religious organizations.

Forty-four percent of U.S. adults said they had donated money to a religious organization in the past 12 months, whereas 74% donated to any other charitable cause. St. Vincent de Paul in Dayton saw the opposite.

“We saw an increase in charitable donations and some volunteers had to pause their service,” said Maria Francis, manager of volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul, when asked if the organization saw a difference when the pandemic began.

As the pandemic triggered lockdowns and concerns over COVID-19 exposure, volunteering was likely more of a fear than a want for most individuals.

Both secular and religious organizations have seen a decrease in the number of volunteers when compared to pre-pandemic surveys. Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults volunteered some time in the past year when asked in 2017, but in 2021, only 56% said the same.

“While lower today than in recent years, the rate of volunteering has been at its current level in the past, most notably during the Great Recession,” said Jeffrey M. Jones who wrote the article on the Gallup poll. 

During the Great Recession, the survey found that 55% of U.S. adults volunteered time in the previous year, only a 1% difference between when that question was asked in 2021.

This is reflected in both secular and religious organizations. Religious organizations saw a difference of nine percentage points, where secular organizations saw a difference of three points when comparing volunteering data to 2017.

St. Vincent de Paul, a lay Catholic organization, provides several services for those in need in the Dayton community including finding temporary and permanent shelter, childcare, aid in furnishing a home, and offering food to those in need. All these things are dependent on volunteers within the community. However, St. Vincent de Paul also saw a decrease in volunteers.

“I wasn’t here at the beginning of the pandemic, but volunteers have returned to service, and some left again during Delta and Omicron,” Francis said. 

Currently the Dayton St. Vincent de Paul has 652 active volunteers, a sharp decline in numbers despite listing on its website that the organization relies on more than 2,500.

Despite the decline, Francis said there is a large group of returning volunteers that participate frequently. Additionally, there are some volunteers that have been with St. Vincent de Paul for more than 15 years. 

A secular Dayton-area charity organization, House of Bread, paused all volunteer opportunities Aug. 7, 2021, and according to the organization’s website,  in-person opportunities have not resumed. Melodie Bennett, House of Bread’s executive director, declined to comment on this report.

As concerns over COVID-19 continue to be prevalent in the U.S. it is unclear if volunteering will ever return to pre-pandemic levels. However, there will always be a need for charitable donations. House of Bread asks for monetary donations here.At the height of the pandemic, St. Vincent de Paul officials were asking for personal protective equipment for volunteers and employees but have since stopped.

As new variants emerge, it is unclear if the organization will have to return to asking for PPE, but St. Vincent’s needs list can be found here.

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