Essentia Health lost several volunteers recently, leaving the hospital's volunteer coordinator, Kelli Sjoblom, concerned about filling the spots.

Currently, Sjoblom says her highest need is for folks who would be willing to pick up a four-hour shift here and there to work in their gift shop. She says they have actually had to close the store a few times for lack of help.

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"The whole purpose is to have volunteers run the gift shop," said Sjoblom, explaining that the money earned at the gift shop goes back into the hospital and, in turn, benefits the community. "You might think, 'What's the big deal if you close for a few hours?' Well, if we close, we're not making any money. It kind of comes full circle that way."

Through wages saved by volunteer work and proceeds made at the gift shop, $650,000 has been donated back to the hospital since 1999, money that has gone toward betterment projects within the facility like the newly-installed helipad and, most recently, a plan that aims to improve diagnosing and caring for patients with breast cancer.

"Our volunteers really do make a big difference," Sjoblom said.

Sjoblom says she has a number of other volunteer spots open as well. She's also looking for people to do hair care for patients and some folks to escort patients around the hospital.

Over at Oak Crossing, a nursing home facility that's part of the hospital, Sjoblom says they could also use some people to help guide visitors at the front desk and some pastoral care volunteers to help with church services.

"Across the board, we can always use more help," she said.

Other openings include volunteers who arrange flowers in the gift shop and people to head up activities such as bingo.

Pam Steinmetz has been working gift shop shifts since 2002. She began volunteering after bringing her mother through the clinic, and she says it always brightens her week to help people shopping for their loved ones in the hospital.

"You feel good that you're able to help ... It's fun. It's rewarding that way," Steinmetz said, adding that volunteering has been important to her family for years.

Steinmetz says her mother actually volunteers for Essentia as well, making flower bouquets for the gift shop.

Barb Veronen, who volunteers at one of the facility's front desks, got started at Essentia in much the same way as Steinmetz. She says she decided to do her part to give back when her parents started staying at the facility, and she saw they were receiving such good care.

"I think it (volunteering) was a way for me to give that back. I worked all my life, and I couldn't do it when I was working," Veronen said. "It feels good to give back."

Sjoblom says they are pretty much guaranteed to have a job for anyone interested and, if not, they have created volunteer opportunities in the past based on people's talents or patients' needs. For example, they have a volunteer who comes in to play the piano to patients and another who started reading to a patient after she discovered the patient wasn't able to read.

"In this role, it's been so inspiring to me to see people willing to give their time just because they want to," Sjoblom said.

While they usually go into the summer months with more volunteers than they have in the winter, this year is a little different because of the fact that they have recently lost a number of volunteers for different reasons, whether they aged out, moved, or had other reasons for leaving.

To get involved, folks can stop by Essentia Health or contact Sjoblom at 218-844-0709.