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New online program is a way of saying thanks to Good Cheer volunteers

Looking over the new website SomethingToGive.org are site developer Andy McRea, Good Cheer Food Bank executive director Kathy McLaughlin and volunteers Marilyn Holle and Daune Olson. - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Looking over the new website SomethingToGive.org are site developer Andy McRea, Good Cheer Food Bank executive director Kathy McLaughlin and volunteers Marilyn Holle and Daune Olson.
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

Volunteers are the bedrock of nonprofit organizations. Why not do something for them, too?

That’s the philosophy behind a new pilot program about to be launched by Good Cheer Food Bank through a new website created by online entrepreneur Andy McRea of Clinton.

“It’s kind of a frequent flyer program for volunteers,” McRea said Wednesday. “It’s really a way of doing what you love to do, and sharing it with someone else.”

The new website, SomethingToGive.org, is designed to bring people with “life experiences” to offer together with volunteers who aren’t really expecting anything in return, but probably wouldn’t turn down a chance for a little help, a little fun or a little excitement, McRea said.

The idea is for volunteers in an organization to accumulate points based on the number of hours they put in, then trade them for an experience offered by someone else in yet another act of volunteerism, he said.

Using their hours, volunteers would “bid” on a thank-you gift online.

McRea, 39, has been building his Internet startup for nearly two years, with the help of volunteers, including his wife, Kris, and his business partner Doug Durbin of Seattle.

On Monday, Nov. 1, the site goes live, with Good Cheer and its volunteers its first customers.

With 23,000 volunteer hours logged in 2009, a record, and with business up at the food bank 14 percent this year as economic doldrums persist on the island, Good Cheer has a stake in keeping its volunteers happy, and in trying to attract more of them.

Good Cheer served 5,046 South Enders in 2009, continuing an upward trend from 2,170 in 2006. Many of those include families who have increased their regular visits, said Good Cheer executive director Kathy McLaughlin.

“More food is going out the door,” McLaughlin said Wednesday.

“We need all the help we can get,” she added. “We’re proud to be Andy’s pilot program. I can see how this could work.”

Here’s the deal, McRea said:

A racing enthusiast might take a volunteer for a couple of spins around the track. A hot-air balloonist might carry a Good Cheer clothing sorter aloft for an hour or two.

There might be travel offered, or cooking lessons, sewing lessons, sailing lessons, computer lessons or cribbage lessons.

There might be dinner at home with a prominent person on the island, with three or four other Good Cheer volunteers invited.

“Maybe lunch with Kathy McLaughlin,” McRea suggested.

There might be personal tours of someone’s fancy home, garden or place of work, maybe a manufacturing plant, or a gold mine.

Volunteers might be offered day-in-the-life experiences, tagging along with interesting people doing interesting things.

The list is endless, McRea said, adding that volunteers are bound to be intrigued by the concept.

“Something you do may be interesting to somebody else,” he said. “The grass is always greener for most people, but they usually just want a taste of it.”

Another key component for givers and receivers would be everyday services — a haircut, a pedicure, mowing the grass, weeding the garden, cleaning the house.

McRea, a South Whidbey resident since 2004, has a varied business background, and owned and operated a “green” construction company before taking on his Internet project full-time.

He and his wife, who is active in South Whidbey schools, have two young children. He also has been involved in Little League and Babe Ruth baseball on the South End.

His partner Durban, a retired financial-services executive, lives in Seattle, but has a vacation home on Whidbey.

McRea said the plan is to monitor the progress of the pilot program during the next two months to determine if the public supports it. If it does, he said he may expand the site regionally or nationally next year, recruiting other nonprofit organizations.

“We feel this is a real gift to Good Cheer and its volunteers,” McLaughlin said.

She said volunteerism on the South End probably reflects national statistics, in that volunteers make up about 27 percent of the population, leaving a large, untapped source for SomethingToGive.org to help fill.

McRea agreed.

“All the studies say that, after their basic needs are met, the happiest people on the planet are those who volunteer their time,” he said.

Living proof is Good Cheer volunteer Marilyn Holle of Langley, who has helped out every week at the food bank for the past eight years.

More living proof is Daune Olson of Freeland, who has volunteered regularly for the past 10 years, ever since Hearts & Hammers put a new roof on her house after her husband died.

“This is payback,” Olson said.

Both, however, perked up at the possibility of getting a little housecleaning help.

“It’s reward enough just to come and work,” Holle said of her volunteering. But pondering the prospect of opening the door to someone with a mop and a bottle of Windex, she added:

“I’d take advantage of that.”

For more information, visit www.SomethingToGive.org, or call McRea at 425-941-1626 or e-mail him at amcrea@hotmail.com, or call McLaughlin at 221-0130.

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