Groups see decline in volunteers after COVID

LIMA — Area organizations find an old adage becoming increasingly true: Good help is hard to find.

“We have seen a significant decline in the number of volunteers that we have,” said Jessica Eutsler, the volunteer services and gift shop coordinator for Lima Memorial Health System. “Some of that started happening before COVID, but it has definitely picked up after the pandemic.”

Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and Americorps found that in 2021, 24.3% of adult Ohio residents formally volunteered through an organization.

Nationally, the study found, 23.2% of Americans ages 16 and older volunteered between September 2020 and September 2021. That dropped from 30% in 2019 and was at 27.6% 20 years ago.

The lack of volunteers sometimes leaves organizations pulling back, as the Schoonover Observatory did for the eclipse when it decided not to open, citing staffing issues from its volunteer ranks.

Pinch at the hospitals

Area hospitals have long relied on volunteers for everything from manning the information desk to pushing guests in wheelchairs to selling items in gift shops. Neither Lima Memorial nor Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center have cut back on services, but they feel the crunch, said Sara Heitmeyer, director of volunteer/auxiliary resources for Mercy Health-St. Rita’s since November 2023.

“The need for volunteers is increasing within different departments when they see all that volunteers can do,” Heitmeyer said.

Mercy Health-St. Rita’s recently introduced a program, “No One Dies Alone,” which places volunteers with dying patients who don’t have family or friends nearby.

Lima Memorial had to back down on how many hours volunteers might be available, but no programs were cut with the roughly 100 volunteers it uses. In the past six months, the system introduced a patient comfort cart, with activities that can be “distraction items,” as Eutsler called them, along with hand lotions and other items for patients and visitors.

While St. Rita’s has 300 active volunteers, “there’s always a need for more,” said Heitmeyer, noting, “Volunteers are at the heart of St. Rita’s.”

“Since COVID, we’re just not seeing that uptick of people wanting to come back into that volunteer role,” Heitmeyer said. “I don’t why that it is. I don’t know if it’s fear. I don’t know if maybe they’re not sure what opportunities are out there and if it would be a good fit for them. The hospital in particular has a role for everybody.”

Eutsler said some volunteers didn’t return after the pandemic after they realized how much they valued their families.

“Once COVID was kind of in the clear, volunteers were more comfortable visiting their family again, and they just wanted to spend their time doing that,” Eutsler said. “They realized how important those people were to them, and they didn’t volunteer any longer because they moved away to move closer to grandchildren or closer to children.”

Reasons for optimism

Tina Bauer and Pam Sinica sat at a table next to a staircase at the Market Street parking garage on Monday, accepting admission fees and passing out eclipse glasses to guests at ArtSpace/Lima’s “Dancing in the Moonlight” event.

Both said their personal connections to ArtSpace/Lima’s executive director, Sally Windle, brought them out to volunteer. But it’s just a way of life for them.

“We like giving back to the community,” Bauer said. “If they can put on something like this for the people, we want to volunteer and spread the joy.”

Chris Jackson, the executive director of the Bradfield Community Center, made a name for himself as an active volunteer over the past 30 years in Lima. When he needs help, he knows he has a pool of people willing to help him out.

“After COVID, it seemed like a lot of people starting becoming more interested in helping their fellow man,” Jackson said. “They started volunteering, and people started doing more to help their communities.”

Erin Hardesty, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Lima, has found willing partners to help with big community projects. Instead of looking for individual volunteers, she connects with civic groups to provide the labor. She points to the upcoming eighth annual Day of Caring on Sept. 6 as an example. They’ve seen the number of people involved increase from 125 up to 450 last year, as they reached out to companies and groups alike.

“We’ve had companies include their entire staff to help that day,” Hardesty said via email. “It is a great day beginning with the kickoff of a light breakfast, a rah-rah meeting which begins at 7:30 and wraps up at 9 a.m., and then everybody goes to their non-profit where they’ve been assigned.”

Finding more volunteers

Most volunteers tend to be retirees, people interviewed for this story agreed. They notice their helpers getting older and older, especially as some people work more years before they decide to retire. At the same time, the number of hours per year for volunteers dropped, with the Census and Americorps study showing an average of 25 hours donated in 2021, compared to 26 in 2019, 40 in 2017 and 52 back in 2002.

Some of the solution is bringing in younger volunteers. Both hospitals said they’ve seen increased interest in their summer teen volunteer programs, often from youth interested in the medical field. St. Rita’s Heitmeyer quipped “all ages, 14 to 114, are welcome here at St. Rita’s.”

Jackson, who spent much of his volunteer time working with youth athletics, always tried to show his mentees the positive side of sharing your time and talents. He appreciates seeing people he’s mentored coming back and getting involved.

“We have a lot of people who have what I call miniblind syndrome, of closing their blinds and curtains and closing out the things they don’t realize are happening in their community,” Jackson said. “Even if I’m cooped up in my house, what’s going on outside does affect me because I’m part of this community. … More people just need to get involved.”


There are many opportunities to volunteer in your community. Here are a few options:

• Mercy Health-St. Rita’s: Call 419-226-9038 or email [email protected].

• Lima Memorial Health System: Email [email protected], get a volunteer application at the hosptial’s main entrances or visit online at

• Bradfield Community Center: Call 419-229-2485 or email [email protected].

See a list of United Way of Greater Lima volunteer opportunities at

Reach David Trinko at 567-242-0467 or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.