‘It’s tragic’: Center that helps homeless and jobless loses 90% of its volunteer lifeline in wake of pandemic

ST. GEORGE — As volunteers are considered the lifeblood of the Switchpoint Community Resource Center, the pandemic has caused the nonprofit to suffer serious blood loss and put it in dire need of a transfusion.

Volunteers fill boxes of food for those in need inside the Switchpoint food pantry during the COVID-19 pandemic, St. George, Utah, March 18, 2020 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“We have lost 90% of our volunteer hours,” Morgan Barrick, Switchpoint’s volunteer manager, told St. George News. “It’s tragic.”

Switchpoint began to bleed volunteers in March at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This had been due in large part to many of the volunteers being of retirement age and older, which puts them in a high-risk class for the virus, Barrick said.

The Switchpoint Community Resource Center serves as an emergency homeless shelter while also operating a food pantry, client case management and several services under one roof aimed at helping the homeless and in-need find housing, jobs while also becoming self-sufficient.

“The volunteers are our lifeline and they are what makes our organization run smoothly, and without them we are feeling aches and pains,” Barrick added.

Volunteers help cover the multitude of services Switchpoint offers to the homeless and those in-need. They help staff the reception deck, kitchen, food pantry, after-hour work at the nonprofit’s thrift store, monitoring the computer lab, showers, tending to the facility’s garden and a plethora of other duties and activities.

Sod being laid at Switchpoint as a part of a service project spurred on by a visit from Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s gubernatorial campaign, St. George, Utah, Aug. 26, 2019 | File Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Without the volunteers needed to fill those needed positions, it has caused existing staff to pull “double duty” and “wear a million hats” as they scramble to cover what services they can, Barrick said.

However, the drawback of this is that it takes away from the case management of Switchpoint’s clients while also putting an added financial burden on the nonprofit as its employees rack up overtime while trying to keep up with service demands, Linda Stay, Switchpoint’s director of development, said. Switchpoint has hired new employees to in an attempt to keep services covered, but it hasn’t been enough, she said

Certain funding avenues for the facility have also seen cuts this year, which hasn’t helped the overall situation, she added

“It’s created a real strain financially,” Stay said. “We’ve had to let some things slide and go because we haven’t had the coverage for it.”

One area that has suffered from a lack of volunteers is the nonprofit’s garden.

“That’s an area we hate to let die because it helps with so much, like therapy for residents and food for our cafeteria,” Stay added. “It also helps provide much-needed nutrition. It’s vital.”

Trophies made from cans from Switchpoint Community Resource Center’s food pantry are given to the volunteer teams during United Way Dixie’s food packaging event, St. George, Utah, Nov. 1, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Other area’s that have seen a constriction in service are the showers and computer lab. Usually, a volunteer will be on hand to allow individuals inside the building if they are coming from the outside to use the showers or the computers. In the computer lab, residents and members of the community can use the internet to help housing and learn how to craft resumes for jobs. As for the showers, they help serve people who may be living in their cars or camping out somewhere, Stay said.

“Those are vital services,” she said. “Not just for people in shelter, but people in the community.”

Impact of volunteers

One volunteer hour is worth $19, Switchpoint’s executive director, Carol Hollowell, said last September during the nonprofit’s fifth anniversary. During a celebration held at the facility, Hollowell gave credit to the many volunteers who she said helped Switchpoint accomplish its mission.

“It takes us over 300 volunteers a month just to stay open. Let that sink in a moment,” Hollowell told St. George during the anniversary party. “That means our kitchen, and our pantry, and our thrift store, and our computer labs. It takes an army… I don’t think people understand how critical they are to our operation… It is so clear to me, that without volunteers, we wouldn’t be open today… I don’t think people understand how critical they are.”

Carol Hollowell, Switchpoint’s executive director, recognizes long-term volunteers Ian and Fred Bohman for their many years of service to Switchpoint during the community resource center’s fifth anniversary, St. George, Utah, Sept. 27, 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

That “army” of 300 volunteers helped keep a significant amount of the facility’s overall operational costs down, Hollowell said at the time.

Barrick said she would be happy to see 100 active volunteers each week as that would help see Switchpoint operate with much less stress on the budget and its overextended employees.

“That’s wishing,” Barrick said. “Any volunteers we’d be happy to have.”

Switchpoint has put a call out over social media for volunteers, and has posted notices for volunteer opportunities to JustServe.org and GetConnectedDixie.org. Barrick also sends a weekly email to Switchpoint volunteers and supporters listing what areas are in need of coverage for coming week.

A stream of volunteers has come through students at Dixie State University, Barrick said, they they tend to drop off once a minimum of volunteer hours are met in order to qualify for extra credit.

Adapting to COVID-19

The Switchpoint Community Resource Center, St. George, Utah, Aug 21, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“Our operations have changed and adjusted to follow (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines,” Barrick said, adding it was safe for volunteers to return if they had been worried about the spread of the virus initially.

Switchpoint has instituted a mask policy for employees and volunteers if they end up working within six feet of another person, Barrick said. Additionally, there are jobs volunteers can do that only require small groups, or can be done solo and without being in contact with other people. Glass partitions have also been put in place at the shelter’s reception desk.

Service at the food pantry also changed operation early on as clients are no longer allowed to walk in and pick out what they wanted. Instead, they are given pre-packed boxes of food in order to cut down the risk of person-to-person exposure.

Even with the safety measures in place, if Switchpoint doesn’t see an uptick in volunteers, the services the community resource shelter offers will continue to suffer as a result, Stay said.

Those interested in learning more about the volunteer opportunities Switchpoint offers can visit the community resource center’s website for more information.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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