By JOHN DOOLEY
NOTHING, it seems, has escaped the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, including volunteer organisations.
Many have borne the brunt of the restrictions that have brought their capacity to raise funds to a standstill, including the region’s Lions Club that is now embarking on a recruitment drive.
Estimates of what voluntary work across Australia is worth to the community vary, but Flinders University researcher, Dr Lisel O’Dwyer, calculates that figure to be a staggering $290 billion to our national economy every year.
In Sunraysia the contribution from Lions is legendary and whether it’s a raffle or the ‘Weekly’s favourite – the popular Christmas cake fundraiser which your newspaper is supporting this year by selling the cakes and the Lions puddings from our front office; calendars, a garage sale or sausage sizzle, the tens of thousands of dollars generated go directly back into the community to organisations like Sunraysia Cancer Resources and Sunraysia Residential Services, to name just two.
Mildura Lions Club secretary, Doug Harry said that because of the COVID restrictions, all of the clubs were doing it tough, with their usual fundraising activities on hold, compounded by a dwindling and ageing membership.
“We are an ageing group whose ages range from 60 to 95 and we’re always looking at ways to increase our volunteer base which is challenging,” Mr Harry said.
“We intend to focus on the next five years and how in that time we can recruit new members who are in the younger age group.
“The older members aren’t able to continue to undertake the fundraising activities and they aren’t expected to and so it limits the amount of money you can raise.”
Zone 14 chairman and Red Cliffs Lions Club member Steve Hicks said that community service clubs in Mildura donate countless thousands of dollars throughout the year.
“Multiply that across the district and then the state and all of the nation and it starts to add up to a massive amount of support that won’t be there this year,” Mr Hicks said.
“In any given year, Mildura Lions Club donates more than $60,000 to organisations in the district, Red Cliffs more than $20,000 and collectively, Zone 14 raises in excess of one million dollars.”
Zone 14 includes seven Lions clubs, Mildura, Red Cliffs, Merbein, Irymple, Buronga, Gol Gol and Broken Hill, each of whom undertake tireless fundraising efforts all year round.
The Mildura Lions Club was chartered more than sixty years ago in 1967, Red Cliffs celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018 and the Broken Hill club will soon notch up 60 years.
Mildura Lions Club president John Whitelegg said that in years gone by, Apex was a feeder club for organisations like Lions and Rotary.
“When Apex was still running, people would be members of Apex until the age of 40 and then move on to join Lions or Rotary,” he said.
“Now that Apex no longer exists here there isn’t any ‘ground-staff’ to feed on.
“All clubs used to average 30 to 35 members, today they would have 10 to 14 members.
“Mildura sits above that with 46 members and we are the biggest club, but we are one step away from that figure dropping substantially, because we have members in the 80s and 90s and we know we will lose them in the coming years.
“Across all of the district’s clubs that begins to mount up and so the full fundraising potential is restricted.”
Mr Whitelegg said that Lions is wanting to attract a younger cohort of volunteers who are interested in making a contribution to their community.
“We ideally want to target the 50 to 60 age group and younger,” he said.
“They are people who have the time, but we do also want to have some younger people who are community minded step forward and join our ranks too.”
Joining a service club is a great way of meeting new people, particularly for new comers to the region.
Anyone interested in joining Lions can contact Doug Harry email: email@example.com.
• EDITOR’S NOTE: The Lions Christmas Cake and Pudding program has been a major fundraising project for Lions Australia since 1965, and to date has raised more than $56 million for the organisation. Local Lions are again selling the famous cakes and pudding in Sunraysia and the ‘Weekly is proudly supporting the effort, selling cakes and puddings from our front office at 424 San Mateo, Mildura.