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Leaside’s growing volunteer problem A dwindling number of stalwarts

Local volunteers. Photo by Michele Petick.

Local volunteers. Photo by Michele Petick.

One of Leaside’s most popular traditions – spring and fall church rummage sales – is changing and may become a thing of the past, according to some leaders of church volunteer groups. The difficulty is a diminishing band of senior women volunteers, the ladies who make it all work.

“We can see the sales continuing for the next five years, but the volunteer challenge is the greatest barrier to sustainability,” says Bob Lister, co-leader of Leaside United Church’s Awesome Sale. If a sufficient number of new volunteers do not appear, then the sales will have to be downsized or ended.”

He added, “Friends and community members who are invited to help and experience the fellowship and process often remain as volunteers because they value the experience and what the work means. But we still need more new volunteers. We are certain that other churches have the same challenges.”

New approaches

Cathy Webster, coordinator of St. Anselm’s Catholic Women’s Network, agrees that the aging volunteer population is troublesome. “Although we have had some success in recruiting new, younger members to the group, it has been challenging,” she says. 

One of the key changes St. Anselm’s made a few years ago was to invite local artisans/external vendors to purchase a table at their events.  

“This has taken some of the pressure off the group in that we don’t have to fill the hall with our own crafts. It also gives local artisans an opportunity to sell and provides a better shopping experience for our attendees. This change has been very successful and we have many repeat vendors at each sale.

“The Women’s Network still sells baking, some hand-made crafts, we have a café and always some draws at each event. 

“We are currently the only fundraising group in the parish that raises funds specifically for parish needs, so we definitely want and need to continue our efforts,” she added.  

At Leaside United, preparation for the two annual sales is a year-round operation. The sales, held in May and October, are extremely important to the work and mission of the church. Customers come from all over the GTA. Unsold goods are donated to Habitat for Humanity and Cerebral Palsy, while books are circulated to two hospitals, two universities and the Children’s Book Bank.

Local volunteers. Photo by Michele Petick.

Local volunteers. Photo by Michele Petick.

“In our unique case, we have picked up and sold furniture for most of the past two decades. However, due to the need for and cost of off-site storage, plus the difficulty in getting ‘weight-lifter’ volunteers for pick-ups, we have reached the decision to no longer have a furniture department. This will be a loss, but other sale departments will be vying for the found space.”

The significant amount of money raised annually goes to both the local work of the church and to outreach projects. These sales fund the legacy of refugee sponsorship, support for Out-of-the-Cold partners, international missions like El Hogar (Honduras), The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO), and many others.  

Younger volunteers are stepping up

Chris Vyse, the Rector’s Warden at St. Cuthbert’s Anglican Church, says that over the past decade or so more, younger people have volunteered to help out at the fairs. 

Local volunteers. Photo by Robin Dickie.

Local volunteers. Photo by Robin Dickie.

“In 2017 we began planning to have younger parishioners take on key planning and leadership roles,” he says. “But it is fair to say that the master planning still resides with a core group of Anglican church women.

“We believe we will succeed at this transition since our two fairs are so much fun, show the community that we are open and welcoming, and enable us to fundraise and support important outreach activities,” he added.