LONDON, ONT. -- Many charity organizations are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep services at normal levels.

Without the ability to fundraise, and donations hurt by economic pressure on the community, the London area chapter of Big Brothers/Big Sisters is focusing on getting more men especially to volunteer time as a mentor.

“The shortage of male volunteers is a national issue,” says Janet Tufts, the executive director of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters London & Area. “We’re getting it down, it was 180 kids eight months ago. We just cracked the 100 mark. We’re at 99 kids on our wait list. But 80 per cent of those children are boys.”

The wait time for the majority of those kids is measured in years, and in Windsor-Essex the situation is similar, with a wait list of roughly 80 kids waiting for mentors.

“The cry from Big Brothers, Big Sisters is always that we need male mentors,” says Becky Parent, the executive director for that region.

Ben Dantzer moved to Grand Bend in the fall from Vancouver where he spent several years as a mentor. He wanted to get involved right away, but understands the hesitancy that many people have in signing up

“I think we tell ourselves these stories. I’m just too busy right now to do it, or I don’t have the means to do it. But one day I just decided to sign up, and I’m really glad that I did because it’s been a really good experience.”

Tufts says they have started a new campaign to try encourage men especially to sign up and fill some of the need.

“We started April 1. Until May 21 the goal is to try to get 50 men to sign up and be a big brother.”

Everyone that signs up during that time is entered into a draw for a large-screen TV, but according to Dantzer the real benefit is the difference that can be made in a young man’s life.

“During COVID especially this is a very important time to get involved because a lot of young people are feeling a bit lonely.”

The stress brought on by COVID-19 has been felt especially among young people, and these organizations are also struggling because of funding cuts and losing the ability to fundraise as they have in the past.

“It’s going to be a tough run for us. Because those grants are disappearing and we’re going to have to rely on donations and on fundraising which is really difficult in these times,” says Parent.

She points out the annual Bowl for Kids' Sake and other fundraisers have had to be cancelled for a second straight year. But focusing on the best experience they can provide is helping during the pandemic.

“Mentors are crucial right now, more crucial than they’ve ever been. We have amazing volunteers that have stepped up this year, like no other year.”

The campaign runs until May 21 in the London Area, with details available here.