Blaine looks to boost number of volunteers

Survey results from last year showed that fewer Blaine residents volunteered compared with national and state benchmarks.

This is one issue, besides frustration with traffic signal timing at Highway 65 intersections, that the Blaine City Council wants to address.

In response, the city will host a volunteer open house from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 30 at Blaine City Hall to give residents a one-stop shop of volunteer opportunities and to let organizations pitch their missions.

“The purpose of this is to connect local citizens with local volunteer organizations,” said Roark Haver, the city staff member in charge of organizing this open house.

Councilmember Dick Swanson said he did not want Blaine to forget about the survey results, so he and Mayor Tom Ryan pushed for this volunteer open house.

“A lot of people do not know about us, so every opportunity we have to hand out brochures and let them know what the time commitment is helps,” said Shirley DiMassi, one of the officers of the Blaine Central Lions Club that started in 2008 and only has 13 members.

According to the results from the National Research Center, 35 percent of Blaine residents surveyed last year said they had volunteered, which was much less than the national and Minnesota benchmarks.

Swanson said part of this could be attributed to Blaine’s growth. Its population increased 27.2 percent between 2000 (44,942) and 2010 (57,186), according to the U.S. Census. New residents need a way to learn about volunteer opportunities.

The percentage of residents over 65 increased from 3.7 percent in 1990 to 13.1 percent in 2011. Swanson hopes that as people retire, they will find more time to volunteer.

In some cases, organizations are so small or new that its members have not been able to spread their message on a broader scale.

The Blaine Central Lions Club, which is separate from the Blaine Lions Club, falls into this category. DiMassi was excited about the idea of a volunteer open house once it came up during a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon committee meeting.

Vision and hearing improvements are two of the Blaine Central Lions Club’s core projects. DiMassi said the club collects used eyeglasses to donate to local residents in need.

It also hosts pancake breakfasts and will have an April 13 spring boutique at the Sgt. John Rice VFW in Blaine to raise funds for service projects such as helping someone buy hearing aids or have surgery to improve their hearing or to help the Can-Do Canines assistance dogs organization. It also organizes food drives to help out the Kingswood Church Food Shelf.

DiMassi would like to have up to 30 members some day in order to host large-scale spaghetti dinners and have more people taking turns at the club’s booth during community events.

The Manna Market has numerous locations and the way the program works is grocers can donate food that is approaching its sell by date. The food is still safe to eat, but some grocery stores have high standards on selling fresh products.

Rather than throw this food away, the Manna Market accepts it and distributes to hungry families, according to Bonnie Randall, director of the Manna Market at the Good Shepherd Covenant Church in Blaine.

Randall said the church distributes every Friday from approximately 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Some volunteers love working very long hours and coming every week, but Randall wants to give them an opportunity to take a break.

Volunteers are needed to set up on Thursday, which includes sorting through the produce to throw away the really bad berries that are mixed in with the good berries, for example. They have a good group of drivers, but more volunteers are needed to pick up the food from stores when drivers are heading out of town in the summer.

On Fridays, Randall said they need greeters to register people, volunteers to supervise the distribution at each table so everyone gets a fair share and people to help carry food boxes to vehicles and load the food.

One aspect of Friday’s distribution day is that Manna Market serves a light dinner for its guests. Five local schools donate leftovers from its lunches, Randall said. They need more volunteers to serve the food.

Swanson is vice chairperson of the North Metro TV board of directors, which is the public access station that covers the cities of Blaine, Centerville, Circle Pines, Ham Lake, Lexington, Lino Lakes and Spring Lake Park. He asked North Metro TV to spread the word that volunteers are needed for local organizations.

Heidi Arneson, executive director of North Metro TV, said the station’s Project Heart series will highlight one local organization each month so the public can learn more about what this organization does and what volunteer opportunities there are.

The first program is 14 minutes long and will feature the Avanti Center for Girls.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]