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Study shows Idaho ranks high for volunteerism

Wed., Jan. 2, 2013, 11:01 a.m.

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Betty Anderl and Peggy Sharp are joined at the hip.

When Anderl was asked to work at the Soup Kitchen, she volunteered Sharp to come along.

When Sharp was asked to volunteer for the Christmas Basket Project, she wouldn’t do it without Anderl.

The Idaho Falls pair volunteer — and have been doing so for years — because of the soft spot in their hearts for those less fortunate.

“It’s important to smile and let people know someone really cares about them, even when they’re at their lowest point,” Sharp said.

Sharp and Anderl are two of the many volunteers in the city, donating to causes such as St. Vincent de Paul and the City of Refuge.

The urge to help people in need is felt around the state: Idaho was ranked No. 2 in the nation for volunteerism in a recent survey by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In 2011, about 40 percent of Idaho residents volunteered, logging a total of 68.7 million hours of service, according to the group.

“Idaho shows a strong commitment to volunteering and civic engagement,” said Renee Cox, program manager for Serve Idaho, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s Commission on Service and Volunteerism.

Only Utah topped Idaho in volunteering, with 40.9 percent of residents donating their time to a cause, according to the report. Across the U.S., more than 64 million citizens volunteered about 8 billion hours.

Cox believes Idaho received its ranking because of the high unemployment rates around the state.

“More people are willing to step out and help those in need,” Cox said.

Serve Idaho officials also urged the Department of Labor to encourage those who are unemployed to volunteer, she said. Volunteering with an organization can sometimes lead to a job or at least a line on the resume, she said.

Sharp isn’t unemployed but she wants to help everyone struggling in one way or another.

“Volunteering can do so much good,” Sharp said. “It’s more efficient than a government program to feed the hungry. (Helping others is) more efficient on a community level.”

Saint Vincent de Paul in Idaho Falls, where Sharp and Anderl spend a lot of their time, has many volunteers funneling through its doors because of word of mouth, although some are there to fulfill probation requirements for community service.

Volunteers spend about 40 hours a week, in total, in the thrift store and food pantry on May Street, assistant manager Casey Glover said.

“Pretty much when you come in and volunteer, you will stay busy from the minute you hit the door,” Glover said.

Volunteers at the City of Refuge in downtown Idaho Falls clocked about 1,700 hours of community service in 2011, case manager Rene Lopez said.

“It’s really beneficial for us to have volunteers, especially because we don’t have a cooking staff here,” Lopez said. “Sometimes people bring in their own food, sometimes they use (our food) from the pantry.”

Opportunities for volunteerism in Idaho Falls aren’t limited to a few places. Many are linked to church organizations or schools, and a good place to start looking is Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership, said Don Johnson, director of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program at the partnership.

Johnson uses to match potential volunteers with a program that suits their interests.

Although Johnson focuses on the senior program, which caters to the 55 and older crowd, he also helps others find a good place to volunteer.

“All they need to do is email me through the (partnership’s website) and I’ll help them find what they are looking for,” Johnson said. “We need volunteers everywhere. The trick is matching what people want and what they are qualified to do with a volunteer opportunity.”

From January through October, the seniors program placed 227 volunteers who donated 30,800 hours to places such as the Humane Society, the Soup Kitchen and Big Brothers Big Sisters, he said.

With all the opportunities available for Idaho Falls residents, Sharp said it’s incredible how many and how much people give back to the community.

“This is such a generous community,” Sharp said. “They’re generous with their resources; they’re generous with their time. So many people come together to make things happen.”

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