In mid-April, the Friends of the Meriden Public Library hosted its annual Spring $5-a-bagful book sale. This biannual sale has for years been our major fundraiser helping support various library programs including childen’s reading program, Spanish computer classes, passes to many museums around the state and many other library projects as they arise.
The Friends of the Library has a membership of nearly 300, and yet, when we’re desperately beating the bushes for volunteers to help us set up for a sale, man the cash box or replenish stock during the sale and dealing with leftover books after the sale, only the same handful of members are “available” to help out.
For this sale, realizing we didn’t have the manpower to move hundreds of books down from the library sorting room and set them up on tables in the Marion Cook meeting room, we opted to hold the sale in our Friends Bookstore on the premises. We also decided to hold the sale for a week instead of the three days we had held it in the past.
Our bookstore volunteers manned the store on the regular days they were normally assigned but, beyond that, barely a handful of us showed up daily to keep the shelves stocked and sale running smoothly. Those few of us were on hand every day of the sale in addition to setting up the stock and putting it away after. We’re still trying to get the books reorganized and alphabetized.
Where were the other 300 members of the organization? It wasn’t that they hadn’t been asked. We had asked for help in our monthly newsletter, put sign-up sheets in the store and telephoned folks who had shown a previous interest in working on the sale. Everyone had an excuse not to help out: doctor’s appointments, babysitting for grandchildren, other meetings around town. It seemed everyone had something else to do every day that week. Yet the few of us worker bees were on hand every single day to help with the fund raising.
What’s the sense of belonging to a service organization if you don’t intend to lift a finger to help out with its causes. Paying the minimum dues will earn you an extra mention in your obit but, be honest, what have you done lately for the organization?
It’s not just the Friends of the Library feeling the lukewarm interest in volunteering. It’s the same with every group. One of our members stopped in at our sale after volunteering for the Quinnipiac River Watershed Association’s annual river cleanup. He was shocked at how few folks turned out to lug junk out of the river. Occasionally, a Boy Scout Troop leader or a teacher interested in the environment will get some of their young charges to help out with something like that (and it’s great that youngsters learn the benefit of volunteering). But mostly, once again, the Council or committee members involved takes on the bulk of the work.
Relay for Life races, butterfly gardens, car washes and bottle and can drives, all of which depend largely on interested young people to turn out and put a little muscle power into accomplishing a given task all have trouble attracting workers for their projects.
I’m pleased to see the people who work with youngsters as well as young parents trying their best to encourage those young folks to do something for others, helping out with school, church and community projects.
But what of the vast middle-age group; the individuals whose lives revolve around their own interests and who never give a thought to how to help out others in this world. Groups like our Friends of the Library have aging memberships. We aren’t going to be able to continue to carry out these projects indefinitely. If only we could interest these self-centered folks in our volunteer projects, we could rally a whole new volunteer force so the old faithfuls could finally get a long-deserved rest.