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More people giving time, resources to nonprofits
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Turlock Salvation Army volunteer Maria Rolon sorts donations in the nonprofits food pantry. She has volunteered at the Salvation Army several times a week since 2008. - photo by ANDREA GOODWIN/ The Journal

Californians are spending more time volunteering for causes they believe in, according to a report released by The Corporation for National and Community Service. The total number of volunteer hours increased by 27 million hours from 2009 to 2010.

According to the report, titled “Volunteering in America,” the economic downtown has driven both the demand and the opportunities for volunteers. The top activity for volunteers in California is fundraising for organizations. The second most common activity is collecting or distributing food items.

Turlock resident Maria Rolon is one of those 24.8 percent of Californians who volunteer their time for non-profit organizations. She has volunteered at the Salvation Army several times a week since 2008. She mainly works in the social services department, answering phones and doing computer work. But sometimes she helps in the food pantry, preparing and distributing boxes of groceries.

“I’ve noticed that there has been a lot more interest in volunteering since there are less jobs,” Rolon said.

Some volunteers, like Rolon, can use the experience as job training. Rolon has nursing experience and is currently looking for work. But the jobs available do not fit her employment background and skills, and she uses her volunteer experience in the place of work experience on her resume.  She said that she is not the only one who is learning new skills through volunteering.

“Volunteering is something that people have behind them when they apply for jobs. It shows that they have some experience,” Rolon said.

Volunteers in Turlock have varying reasons for spending their free time doing un-paid work for nonprofit organizations. Maris Sturtevant, director of United Samaritans, said that Turlockers of all ages volunteer their time. United Samaritans coordinates with California State University, Stanislaus to take student volunteers and interns who are looking for class credits. They also have out-of-work volunteers, working professionals, and older retirees who volunteer.

“They’re doing something that makes them feel good about themselves,” Sturtevant said.

United Samaritans recently streamlined their volunteer program and hired a volunteer coordinator. The process is more formal than it was a few years ago, and Sturtevant said the organization is seeing more volunteers as a result.

“We needed to have more help, so we organized the process and now we have volunteers on a schedule. They have to sign in and out and track their number of hours, I think as a result we do have more volunteers than in the past,” Sturtevant said.

Volunteering in America estimates that California volunteers contributed $20.6 billion worth of work hours in 2010. Sturtevant said that volunteers contribute significantly to the mission of United Samaritans.

“If it was not for the volunteers, it would be difficult for us to do all of the things we do,” she said.

To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.