WINNIPEG -- Manitoba not-for-profit organizations have suspended or adjusted volunteer programs because of COVID-19 safety concerns, meaning fewer opportunities for Manitobans to give back through donating their time.

One population that’s being taken into consideration is seniors, who make up the largest segment of the volunteer pool in Manitoba — and are also considered high-risk to develop severe complications due to COVID-19.

“There’s so many people that want to get out there and volunteer and it's just not safe right now for them to go out there and do it,” said Jackie Hunt, Volunteer Manitoba’s executive director.

“What’s happened is that there’s organizations out there with very large volunteer pools that are comprised mainly of seniors, so to try to figure out a way to ensure the safety of their volunteers and continue to run their programs has certainly been a challenge,” she said.

At Winnipeg Harvest, volunteers over 70-years-old and children have been asked to stay home for safety reasons.

“We still know that anywhere there is people the risk is there,” said Meghan Pesclovitch, Volunteer Services Manager at Winnipeg Harvest.

“Normally we try to be as inclusive as possible and try to include as many different types of volunteers as possible,” she added. “It was sad for us to do that, but we thought that it was a healthy choice for our community.”

During the pandemic, Winnipeg Harvest is providing hampers directly to clients instead of distributing food in bulk to food banks.

The change in operation allows for the work to be dolled out in a more focused way to just 45 volunteers a day instead of the pre-pandemic 200.

“Pushing the items through, loading them into boxes, sorting the groceries,” explained Pesclovitch. “So that they stay basically with planted feet, six feet away from all of their colleagues.”

Pesclovitch says the volunteers are putting together and sending out about 1,000 hampers a day.

Other non-profits, like the Canadian Red Cross, have moved the work volunteers do online.

“For example, our volunteers continue to provide support to people dealing with small-scale disasters such as house fires, but this support is now provided virtually instead of in person. The Red Cross remains ready to assist Canadians in the event of an emergency or disaster,” said a Red Cross spokesperson in a written statement. 


Hunt told CTV News that Volunteer Manitoba is finding that there are more people wanting to volunteer than there are volunteer opportunities.

“We get calls every day from people looking for volunteer opportunities there just aren’t enough organizations that are running their volunteer programs right now to be able to fill all of those requests,” Hunt said.

She said some organizations have made it possible for volunteers to work from home, by making masks, assembling packages for pick-up, or taking the work online. 

If someone isn’t able to be matched with an organization, Hunt suggests informal volunteering.

“Informal volunteering is reaching out to your friends, your family, your neighbours and helping where you can with the people that you know,” she explained.

According to Statistics Canada, people 75-years-old and older have a volunteering rate of 27 per cent. The Canadians in that age group also give the most time — 231 hours per year.

Hunt says many organizations are working right now on plans to safely welcome back volunteers of any age, as soon as it’s safe.

“The non-profit sector, one of the things we’re good at is pivoting very quickly, because things are always changing,” said Hunt. “But the one thing that most of us can't live without is our volunteers.”