The greatest challenge of COVID-19 for the volunteering sector in Tasmania may be yet to come.
Non-profit organisations, and charities and other groups reliant on volunteers have been deeply impacted by the pandemic.
Volunteering Tasmania chief executive Lisa Schimanski said the challenge ahead for the sector was re-engaging volunteers back into organisations.
Dr Schimanski said in Tasmania about 250,000 volunteer hours a week had been lost during COVID-19 but because so many aspects of society were shut down, the loss of volunteering hours did not have as big an impact during the lockdown.
"As the world starts to open up again, we need to make sure we are re-engaging volunteers because we desperately need them. We can't be short that many hours," Dr Schimanski said.
"We also cannot underestimate how beneficial volunteering is to the mental health and wellbeing of the people that are volunteering. The sooner we get people re-engaged safely, the better."
Dr Schimanski said a recent report by the Australian National University commissioned by Volunteering Australia had found people who were able to remain volunteering through COVID-19 had much better psycho-social outcomes than those who had to pause their volunteering.
"We often think about volunteering as being important to the people who receive the support but it's also really important for volunteers themselves," she said.
Dr Schimanski said there would be a particular challenge around re-engaging older volunteers because public health messaging encouraged people over 70 and those with underlying health conditions to stay at home.
However, she said the proportion of people aged over 60 or 65 that were volunteers was not as great as one might think.
"[COVID-19] is a challenge we will grapple with for quite a while and we expect it will impact on people's willingness and capacity to be volunteering," Dr Schimanski said.
"Some organisations are starting now, with this last loosening of restrictions, to bring back some of those older volunteers. It will be a slow process."
Earlier in the pandemic, Dr Schimanski said there had been a lot of transferring of skills and efforts by volunteers to areas of needs.
"Volunteers that were in different programs have provided their support where there was demand. For example, they may have been volunteering with sporting club and their volunteering went to producing meals that went to neighbourhood centres," she said.
Volunteer burnout is something VT is worried about.
"A lot of organisations that had increased demand relied more heavily on the volunteers they had in place. Care needs to be taken now that those volunteers don't get worn out," Dr Schimanski said.
The ability of volunteer groups reliant on fundraising to start up again is also a concern.
"A lot of small volunteer groups are fully volunteer run and reliant completely on the fundraising they do - sausage sizzles at Bunnings and all the rest - and they have not been able to generate any income over this period to support their volunteer activity," Dr Schimanski said.
"Their ability to get started again is going to be really compromised."
Meals on Wheels state president Keith Simmondssaid COVID-19 had seen the organisation lose some of its volunteers.
"Anybody over 70 had to sign a waiver if they were willing to continue delivering for us. We had a number of over 70s who thought they would not deliver meals during this time," Mr Simmonds said.
But Mr Simmonds said those driving roles were able to be filled by other volunteers.
"Volunteers are essential. Without the volunteers, we wouldn't be able to deliver our meals at such a low price - it would be non-functional," he said.
"We are always happy to take on more volunteers, particularly younger people because our age group like many other organisation is getting a bit elderly."
Mr Simmonds said the other major impact of COVID-19 on MOW was an increase in demand across the state.
"We've had quite a large number of people having to be assessed by our assessment officers and quite an influx of meals that had to be delivered," he said.
He said MOW had adopted COVID safety measures and had been able to maintain its operations through the pandemic, including delivering meals in the North-West during the COVID outbreak in that region.
Plans on hold
A Make-A-Wish Australia spokesperson said COVID-19 has impacted 80 per cent of wishes, with 18 wishes on hold in Tasmania.
The charity grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.
"As restrictions ease with government and state-based advice, many wishes will continue to be on hold, given the vulnerable nature of the children and the families we support," the spokesperson said.
"Postponed wishes include travel wishes, experience-based wishes and many event-based wishes."
Most wishes between April and August have been postponed.
The spokesperson said it was a tough economic market for fundraising right now and the organisation, which relied on public donations, has noted a decline since the COVID-19 crisis.
"Key campaigns have been halted and many supporters, understandably, are unable to give at this time," the spokesperson said.
"Looking to the future, it's going to be a slow and steady process as our wish community of suppliers, volunteers and partners get back on their feet.
"However, with continual support, we hope to bring all the wishes in waiting to life without causing delays to future wishes."
Need for certainty
TasCOSS chief executive Adrienne Picone said the peak body was proud of how agile, adaptable and productive the community sector had proven to be during the COVID-19 response.
She said the pandemic had illustrated the need for long-term funding certainty for community service organisations.
"Tasmania's community services industry, who have worked tirelessly on the frontline of this crisis out in our communities, has been essential to the success of our state's health-focused, compassionate response to the COVID-19 crisis," Ms Picone said.
"COVID-19 presented a number of challenges for community service organisations, such as navigating changes to models of service delivery and reduced capacity to deliver services especially among organisations with a heavy reliance on volunteers, amidst increased demand by those hardest hit by loss of income and the effects of isolation.
"With an expected increase in demand for many services, particularly as some of the current supports drop away - such as the JobSeeker supplement, protections around rental eviction and electricity disconnections - it is paramount our governments continue to provide adequate resourcing to meet increased future need, particularly around digital access, mental health and food security."
The sector was supported through the pandemic with some financial assistance from the state government.
Minister for Disability Services and Community Development Jeremy Rockliff said $5 million had been provided to various non-profit groups.
Among those organisations assisted, MOW received $250,000 to assist in freezing meals for the elderly and vulnerable, Foodbank received $100,000 to increase delivery frequency and supplies, and the Council of the Ageing received $65,000 to develop a communication plan for older Tasmanians.
Mr Rockliff said volunteers had played a vital role in responding to COVID-19.
"While many volunteers had to self isolate due to higher risk factors, over 1000 new volunteers signed up during the pandemic, mostly in the younger age groups, so it's great to have a new generation of volunteers as we head down the road to recovery," he said.