Volunteering isn’t a duty for Ruby Cunefare, and her husband, Terry. It is a way of life — one that is cherished.

Cunefare is involved now or has been in the past with more than 30 organizations ranging from holding children’s church services at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ to decorating Christmas trees for the YWCA Adult Literacy Program’s Festival of Trees to raise money for adult education.

“People are always saying, ‘How do you do it all?’ We enjoy it,” said Cunefare of the volunteer work she and her husband do. Her husband a former Pekin firefighter, is the construction coordinator for Habitat for Humanity. Cunefare volunteers for the organization and works with her husband.

“It’s just a passion and we love it — helping people,” she said. “You know it’s just like (the movie) ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’

“If, and I am not saying that Terry and I are anything special at all, I’m just saying that if you take two people out of our community who have a passion to do stuff, that may be two kids that don’t get something they need or two people who don’t get to learn.”

Every charity rises or falls on the legions of volunteers who carry the charity banner for all to see. Pekin is well known for its volunteer spirit — both in giving from the pocket book and the pocket watch — for everything from the United Way of Pekin and the Salvation Army to the Marigold Festival and the YWCA Paint the Town Red fundraiser.

The Salvation Army has one of the largest volunteer bases in Tazewell County. The organization is currently in the middle of a race to raise its goal of $149,500 in its Christmas campaign. Money from that fundraiser supports the Rust Transitional Center for the homeless, a food pantry, a day care, and rent and utility assistance.

The organization had the support of 13,863 volunteer man hours in 2011, many for the Christmas bellringing campaign. That number was up from 13,443 in 2010 and 11,092 in 2009. Volunteers mean fewer dollars have to be used to pay someone to ring bells, which means more money left over for programs.

Martin said the bulk of its campaign funds are still raised by paid bellringers, in part because there are more hours covered by paid ringers and because paid ringers are better trained for what they do.

“We have a large number of people to help at Christmas,” said Thies. “We pushed harder last year for volunteers and it made a difference.

“Do we have enough volunteers all year? That’s hard to answer. We can’t have volunteers working in the child care center or in the transitional center, but we do have other work for volunteers. We have more at Christmas. Last year 33 percent of our goal was raised by volunteers. The year before that was  much smaller. It’s a ministry. Some Salvation Army groups have all volunteer campaigns.”

Not all Salvation Army volunteers are in the field ringing bells. The advisory board is advisory in nature and the positions filled by volunteers.

“I can attribute the way we are viewed and our community support is due to the active involvement of the advisory board,” said Thies. “I don’t rub noses with the business people or the well-to-do people in town, I work with the people in need.

“The board members know all there is to know. They are my voice in the community. They are the reason the Salvation Army does well. We wouldn’t be what we are without them.”

Pekin YWCA Executive Director Melinda Figge said that the YWCA has the help of approximately 100 volunteers annually with its Paint the Town Red fundraiser, Festival of Trees, the Bobber Extravaganza, the Adult Literacy Program and with various programs within the YWCA.

“Adult literacy is the area that requires the most volunteers because we match a volunteer tutor with an adult learner one-on-one,” said Figge. “They are able to reach out in need of help.

“We couldn’t do adult literacy without volunteers.”

Figge said the organization doesn’t seem to have any problems finding volunteers. From time to time people who come to the YWCA for programs are asked if they would like to help out in some fashion. Figge said an example of that is when the childcare program has a swim day for the kids. People in other swimming programs help out with the children because having so many children in the pool requires additional hands.

The YWCA Reserves volunteer their time for fundraisers, to bake cookies or serve punch for special events or just about anything the organization needs.

“We have some specific individuals who are just amazing,” said Figge. “They spend tons of time helping. We tend to get new faces through our programs.”

The American Red Cross-Central Illinois Region also is heavily dependant on volunteers for both activities in its 39 county area and for participation in national disasters.

“Without our volunteers we wouldn’t be able to do even a small fraction of what we do,” said Erin Miller, regional communications director.
The American Red Cross does a lot.

Volunteers save lives through staged prom accidents at high schools. The presentation requires two students — one portraying the drunk driver and one portraying the person who is dead at the scene. The dead child’s parents are also portrayed by volunteers. Law enforcement officials place the “body” in a body bag and police lead the “drunk” teen away.

Tazewell County in 2005-2006 during a 15 month period lost 15 kids in traffic accidents, some of which were alcohol related.

“We are able to reach tens of thousands of teens and help them to make better choices,” said Miller.

Many Americans were glued to their seats watching Hurricane Sandy ravage the east coast as Red Cross volunteers worked to provide food, shelter and sometimes a shoulder to cry on. But few see the work done on the home front after a tornado demolishes a town, flood waters force families from their homes or fire ravages an apartment complex.

“Our volunteers are ready 24-7,” said Miller. “They find people clothes, a place to go and food.”

Organization volunteers talk to jurors waiting to be called to the court room about disaster preparedness. The organization also trains people to use Automated External Defibrillator and provide other life saving medical care in an emergency.

And the American Red Cross assists military families when a new baby is born or someone in the family dies. They work with the U.S. Department of Defense to get the soldier home.

The Central Illinois Chapter has almost 300 volunteers or all ages and backgrounds.

“We have some of the most dedicated volunteers,” said Miller. “We have one volunteer in her 90s and two handicapped people who prepare bulk mailings.

“They wanted to do something to help were unable to do many things, so they help, out there. We have a wonderful group of volunteers.”