Volunteers provide valuable services to schools and libraries, parks and recreational programs, senior centers, law enforcement and first responders and more. According to a study by the Institute for Policy Research and Study, “80 percent of the manpower needs of local fire departments in the United States are provided for by volunteers.”

A report from the Corporation for National and Community Service revealed that in 2018, more Americans than ever volunteered their time. In fact, just over 30 percent of the population has spent a total of 6.9 billion hours in volunteer work in their communities. Moreover, research suggests that those who volunteer live longer, stay healthier and are happier than those who do not.

The Leadership Tuolumne Class (LTC) of 2017-18 had these national trends in mind when its members came up with idea to host a Tuolumne County Volunteer Fair. Their idea to harness the power of volunteers in our community was validated when more than 200 people showed up to visit tables that featured 75 area nonprofit organizations that needed volunteers. During a follow-up meeting a month later, the class learned that 45 people started to volunteer with participating organizations.

“There was such an incredible buzz in the air at last year’s fair,” declared Gary Johnson, “that Robin Walters and I decided the event needed to be an annual affair.”

Johnson and Walters were members of the LTC class, and Walters heads the highly effective Project Feed Our Kids, a faith-based nonprofit that aims to eliminate childhood hunger in Tuolumne County. One of the project’s biggest events of the year is providing meals for the annual Christmas Dinner at Tuolumne Memorial Hall in Tuolumne. The group also contributes to lunch programs at Jamestown and Columbia elementary schools. Project Feed Our Kids works because of volunteers.

Johnson and Walters have teamed with the Sonora Area Foundation to organize the 2019 Volunteer Fair, which will take place on April 25 in the John Muir Building at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora. Agencies that are looking for volunteers and want to participate can contact Walters at 225-0459 or by email at volunteerfairsonora@gmail.com.

While seniors and retirees commonly put their abundance of experience, knowledge and expertise into volunteer work, Johnson says they are hoping to also attract families who wish to model the values of volunteerism to children. Kids can help pack boxes at the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency Food Bank or dish out mashed potatoes at the Christmas Dinner.

From 3 to 6 p.m. April 25 – right after school or work – you can check out a huge variety of volunteer options at the fairgrounds.

The next evening, April 26, Sierra Nonprofit Services celebrates volunteers. For the past 17 years, the agency has presented the annual Volunteers, the Heart of Tuolumne County, Awards. For this event, a panel of citizens selects volunteers to be recognized with cash grants that can be donated to their causes or organizations.

This year, Sierra Nonprofit has reinvented the program to include a greater audience by presenting the celebration on social media. The “Vollies,” as they are calling the program, promise an exciting evening. In addition to honoring 2018 award winners, organizers plan to showcase the causes the volunteers support and acknowledge sponsors of the event, as will the judges who provide both wisdom and years of experience in serving the community.

Those attending the Vollies can enjoy complimentary food and beverages at the agency’s new home on Stockton Street (Highway 49) in Sonora, or you can pull together you own little snack plate at home and log into Facebook from 4 and 6 p.m. to enjoy the celebration.

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