For many people, this can be a tough time of year. The days are at their shortest and, on average since records have been kept, at their coldest. The holidays are over. No more presents. Loved ones are gone. The next long weekend is a month away!
Some people deal with this reality by heading south, following the sun to a warmer, more relaxed clime.
For others, being among other people in their own home communities and putting their energy into volunteerism helps the winter speed by in a blaze of meetings, events and relationships.
Canadians are known to be generous, and Manitobans rank very high in most categories of giving their time, money, ideas and energy. Levels of giving have remained constant over the past five years despite changes in the economy. Twenty-four million Canadians, roughly 84 per cent of the population over 15 years of age, made a charitable or non-profit donation in 2010 for an approximate total of $10.6 billion.
At the same time, 13.3 million Canadians — 47 per cent of the population — volunteered their time to a group or organization. That amounts to more than two billion hours, the equivalent of more than a million full-time jobs! Atlantic Canada tends to be the leader in offering time and money to charitable and non-profit causes with the Prairies ranking second. The North and Quebec often lag behind.
As 2012 came to a close, many Canadians were honoured with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medals in recognition of their volunteer contributions to their community and the world. Sixty thousand medals were handed out, tying into the Queen’s 60 years on the throne. One-third went to the military, one-third to firefighters, first responders and police, and one-third to active citizens.
There are many reasons people donate money to charity.
Some people are altruistic and want to support efforts to better our local and global community — and to have an impact on fighting poverty, disease, disability, environmental degradation and other concerns.
As well, some folks are also focused on receiving a charitable tax receipt or the public credit that comes with some donations. Still others may want to climb generously onto a bandwagon, where others they know in business, in their church or school, or in their neighbourhood are putting their donation dollars.
From the numbers provided by Statistics Canada and Imagine Canada, the national philanthropy organization, clearly most Canadians want to be giving and participating as citizens.
In donating their volunteer time, many Canadians hope to meet new people, learn new skills and help people while they are at it! Volunteers are always in demand, at hospitals, community centres, sports leagues, food banks and a range of other locations. There are always opportunities to coach, provide elder care, raise funds and awareness, care for animals and more. Young people often see volunteering as a chance to network toward a paid job, try out a career before committing themselves and enhance their resumés.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the author of many past bestselling books, such as "On Death & Dying," wrote — in talking about people feeling isolated and alienated in our society — that we should take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way to reach out and connect with others, rather than deciding to "stay home." And that is a happy truth when it comes to getting involved in issues or groups: the payback for most people makes it worth the effort.
To recognize the work of volunteers in our province, a call for award nominations goes out at this time each year. These include the Lieutenant-Governor’s, Premier’s and Mayor’s (of Winnipeg, at least) Awards, as well as others sponsored by businesses and the media, including the Royal Bank and the Free Press.
Many rural communities or regions now also make an effort to celebrate their volunteer contingents.
Deadlines to nominate a volunteer or active citizen in your community come up in late February and a provincial Awards Banquet is held during Volunteer Week in April. Information on these is available online or from provincial or city information lines.
During these sundog days of winter, don’t mope. Whether you are a student slogging through classes, a worker getting through that next day or shift, or a senior wanting to keep life full and interesting, generosity with your time and even limited finances offers a very worthwhile payback.
» Zack Gross works for the Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations active in our province.