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J.C. community organizations rely on volunteers, but a shortage leaves some of them struggling.

DESIREE BERGSTROM/MADRAS PIONEER - Sandi Okeefe pulls food off of pantry shelves to fill a client's bag. The Madras Community Food Pantry, which operates out of the United Methodist Church, relies on volunteers who help clients shop through the food.
Madras, with a population of somewhere around 7,000 people, is a hoppin' place when it comes to fun events, entertainment and culture — especially for such a small space.

Just over the summer alone, the Madras High School Key Club put on three Kids Cultural Days at the Saturday Market, the Our Community event provided haircuts, clothing and other services to the community, and the Airshow of the Cascades brought thousands to the airport.

As rich as Madras is in events and activities for the community, it is equally rich in the one thing that none of those events could function without — volunteer opportunities.

Whether it's a big event or a an hour or two of time every week for something smaller, much of this community runs on volunteers, but many places are struggling to find enough people to cover the work involved in making things happen.

A different generation

Art Adventure Gallery has been a fixture of Madras since 1986, providing the community access to traveling exhibits, as well as local art that would otherwise be hard to come by in a rural area.

"It has been completely volunteer run for all those years," said Coralee Popp, director of the gallery.

Current volunteers at the gallery mentioned that out-of-towners often stop in on their way through town and locals enjoy coming in during exhibit openings that correspond with the Downtown Association's Park and Play events in the summertime.

However, recently, the gallery has had to close their doors on Mondays and Tuesdays, when they would generally be open to the public because of a lack of volunteers.

Popp said something has to give.

She reminisced about what the gallery, and Madras community was like when she first joined the gallery in the early '90s. She said people were involved and did whatever they could to help out in the community, recalling the time people made a pass-along line to transfer books to the new library or came together to build tennis courts.

The gallery is a really special place she said, mentioning the art and the people that come in, but there is somewhat of a disconnect between what the gallery once was and its current state and part of it's generational.

They have a really hard time getting any sort of younger generation to help out and be a part of the gallery. All of the board of directors are retirees, she said, as are many of the people who volunteer to sit behind the desk, greet guests and handle transactions for purchased artwork.

Though she credited younger people, like those that head up the Downtown Association, with trying to continue community involvement and spur people to get involved, that doesn't change the immediate need for practical and tangible volunteer help.

It's an enjoyable task to help out with, and the shifts run from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. or 2 p.m.-5 p.m. During a shift, the volunteers help any patrons that stop in and in their down time, they often bring a project to work on, like artwork of their own, or a book to read.

Popp said it's important to the community to have a space like the gallery, because it provides people exposure to art that isn't otherwise available in small communities like Madras. She said that volunteers get to be a part of that important exposure and piece of society.

Abounding opportunity

It's not just the gallery that is looking for help and having a hard time finding it on the horizon. The Jefferson County Friends of the Library are looking, Jefferson County Little League, 4-H, Mountain Star Relief Nursery, the Community Read, Madras High School Future Center, and Jefferson County Cultural Coalition are all looking for people to help out, as are many other places.

The opportunities are as varied as the organizations. Almost anyone could find a volunteer opportunity that fits their schedule and interests.

Jon Gandy, the 4-H coordinator for Jefferson County, said that volunteers are truly the backbone of the 4-H program. Imagine the county fair without the livestock exhibits, of which 4-H showers make up a large portion.

Gandy said they can always use volunteers, and right now, many of the 4-H livestock clubs are getting really big. More volunteers would mean more clubs and current clubs would be less crowded.

Tiffany White, the volunteer coordinator for Mountain Star Relief Nursery, said that their volunteer opportunities can serve as a way to really connect with kids and families.

The nursery's goal is to prevent child abuse and neglect by offering a safe space and low child-to-adult ratios. She said a big positive about the Madras volunteers, is their consistency, but there is still room for several more. The commitment is about three hours a week, she said.

"We definitely have one of those unique opportunities where you get to build meaningful relationships with people," she said.

DESIREE BERGSTROM/MADRAS PIONEER - Ken Sexton and Cindy Greener fill a shopping list order for refrigerated and frozen items.

A job for everyone

Volunteer opportunities in the community are diverse, which means there is no shortage of tasks for different people.

The Madras Community Food Pantry, run out of the United Methodist Church, near the hospital, is a great example of a need for more than one skillset.

While some of the volunteers, about 30 to 35 all together, work while the pantry is open to clients, others volunteer to help behind the scenes, and according to Kathy May, who coordinates the pantry, all the volunteers are important.

She said some of them enjoy helping clients shop in the pantry and interacting with them. Others spend time checking people in when they arrive or filling the orders that come from the freezers and refrigerators. But, May said, there is far more that goes into the pantry than what you see on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

There are volunteers that make trips to Redmond, where the food comes from, through the Oregon Food Bank. There are some volunteers that prefer to just help unload food, while others, make trips to Safeway to pick up some of the fresh foods that they get through a Fresh Alliance agreement they have with the store.

No matter the task, the people who volunteer their time are vital to the pantry and they are always looking for more help.

May said the mission of the pantry is to alleviate hunger and food insecurity in Jefferson County, but along with supporting that mission, volunteering serves as a way to connect with people in the community.

"The people that volunteer do it out of a desire to give back," she said. The opportunity is also a way of connecting with members of the community and other volunteers. The task is fairly interactive and while it is run out of the United Methodist Church it's not exclusive and others participate.

The opportunity usually requires a minimum of a four-hour commitment a week and anyone can volunteer, including clients who come and shop.

She said the overall idea is to form relationships with the community and create a culture of compassion and inclusiveness.

For more information on the above mentioned opportunities, contact information is as follows: Madras Community Food Pantry, contact the United Methodist Church at 541-475-2150, or Kathy May at 541-953-4259; Art Adventure Gallery, call 541-475-7701; Jefferson County 4-H, call 541-475-7107; and Mountain Star Relief Nursery, call 541-475-2537.

For more information on other oportunities, contact information is as follows: Jefferson County Little League, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; Friends of the Library contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; Jefferson County Community Read, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; and Jefferson County Cultural Coalition, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

There will always be a plethora of opportunities to get involved in the community, and those listed here only scratch the surface of the need in Jefferson County. The Madras Pioneer is continuing to gather information for other organizations that have volunteer opportunities in the community. Additional information can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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