Volunteerism is at lowest level since 2002

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Just over a quarter of adults in the U.S., 26.2 million people, volunteered for an organization in 2013, a percentage that has fallen for the last two years and reflects the lowest level of volunteerism since the government started keeping track in 2002.

The data were released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and collected at the behest of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency. The information reflects volunteerism between September 2012 and September 2013.

The national survey showed that 25.4 percent of the population volunteered for an organization during that time. The rate has been slowly declining since 2005 when 28.8 percent of U.S. adults spent time volunteering. The largest dip was not recorded during the Great Recession, but in 2006, when it dropped more than 2 percentage points to 26.7 percent.

In the survey, the bureau found that women volunteer more than men and the highest percentage of volunteers, 10.9 percent, deal with food: packing, cooking, distributing and serving.

That trend benefits The Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which experienced an increase in the number of volunteers in its fiscal 2013 that ended in July.

Alyssa Jurewicz-Johns, director of community engagement, said, "We are a very robust volunteer platform. That could be why we are on the rise; we have something that suits everybody."

The food bank has volunteers repack food for the pantries, collect food at food drives, glean crops from local farms, staff farm stands and special events, and help with clerical support.

The food bank distributes 2.2 million pounds of food a month to people in 11 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. Last year, the organization used 18,086 volunteers to do that, a 46 percent increase over fiscal 2012 when 12,421 people volunteered.

Nationally, 43 percent of the people who volunteered for an organization approached it and offered their assistance. Another 40.8 percent were asked for their help, with 23 percent being recruited by someone in the organization or their school.

Friends and relatives who were active in an organization also provided additional help. The national survey found that 14.7 percent of the people who volunteered for an organization did so because friends and family asked for their service.

At the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which does not keep statistics quite the same way, the staff has found that while 35 percent of the volunteers come from corporations and 8 percent are affiliated with educational institutions, 50 percent come in on their own with no affiliation.

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.

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