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Opinion: Volunteer work is priceless

When we make economic justice calculations, we must not forget the value of volunteering.
16 Ice Oval 2021 flood
Volunteer Gerry Van Caeseele uses a hose on Sunday morning during the building of the ice surface at the Prince George Outdoor Ice Oval.

The value of unpaid work done by volunteers has inspired some economic justice-minded people to advocate that more of this unpaid work become paid work. But while paying volunteers may seem like a good idea, it ignores the priceless value of the gift of time for the giver and receiver. Whether we volunteer with an organization or do a kind deed for a friend, there is more going on in the “unpaid economy” than meets the eye.

Consider when a friend brings a pot of soup when you are sick. The monetary value of the pot of soup is maybe $20 or $30 retail. The value of seeing your friend’s face and chatting at the door when they drop it off? Priceless. Then there is the honour of knowing your friend took an hour of their time off work to cook the soup. Also priceless. A pot of soup from The Salted Cracker, Than Vu or Timmy’s may be just as tasty and received with thankfulness, but there is a little something missing that cannot be bought with cold hard cash.

The benefit of volunteering isn’t restricted to the receiver. Consider one of the many examples of giving that are happening in the flood zone in the Lower Mainland: a farmer took a boat to help his neighbours feed stranded animals. The reporter asked why, when he himself was evacuated, was he doing this? His reply was “I have to be able to do something to help out. My animals are dead, but I can help my neighbours.” The ability to help others helped him feel valuable despite being in a bad situation himself. He felt part of the solution to his community’s suffering. That is priceless.

That feeling of value, importance, and mattering to someone, cannot be replicated by a salary or purchased item. It’s an interesting quirk of human nature, really, when you consider that money equals time in a way as well, so the purchased pot of soup or a hired contractor has a gift of time attached to it, but somehow, it’s just not the same.

When we make economic justice calculations, we must not forget the value of volunteering. Both the giver and the receiver benefit in a way that cannot be calculated in monetary terms. Just because something is not paid for doesn’t mean it isn’t valued; it may simply be that it’s priceless.

Trudy Klassen is a Prince George writer.