December 1, 2009

Our Volunteer Cup Overfloweth

Last Monday, I sat down to listen to the slew of voicemail messages that eager potential volunteers had left me over the weekend. As I went through them one by one, I noticed that the number of messages on my phone was actually going up—people were calling to volunteer every few minutes!

The holiday season always brings a dramatic increase in volunteerism, but I have gotten the impression that people are more eager to help this year than in the past. An article from the Washington Post agrees and points out some good reasons why. It suggests that, in the face of recession, people understand that the needs of the poor are higher now than ever before. Furthermore, as finances grow tight and jobs continue to disappear, many people have more time on their hands than money to donate.

This drastic increase in available volunteers makes my job (as volunteer coordinator) easier. But it has also led me to turn away a record number of interested people. We are already completely booked for volunteers in our food pantry in Northwest through Christmas Eve, and we only need a few more groups in our Southeast pantry in December.

I hate to turn away potential supporters, though--after all, Bread for the City is still feeling the crunch of the laden economy and we certainly need the help of our community to make it through these tough times.

But our pantries are simply physically too small to hold any more volunteers, so I’m trying to come up with creative ways to retain this onslaught of support. This year we had a great new opportunity for volunteers to get their hands dirty through Glean for the City -- but the harvest season has now come to a close. We also have volunteer opportunities for those with specialized skills (like the pro bono photography offered to us by Steve Goldenberg; web technology assistance from Drew Tipson and Chris Kennedy). And of course there's the many super-dedicated volunteers that we honor during the annual Good Hope Awards -- all of them are like members of our family.

What about the people who want to help during the holidays, but don't have highly specialized skills or even all that much time? Well I have three suggestions for you:

1. Bread for the City can put your dollars to just as good a use as your time -- especially during our Holiday Helpings campaign, which is only $28 for a family of four.

2. Get involved in political efforts that will address the root causes of poverty, like health care reform, or supporting our city's safety net.

3. Remember that our clients will still be struggling even after the holiday season. Your help will be just as valuable to us in February or June. You can submit an application here and I'll discuss how to plan in advance for future volunteering.

Although part of me is looking forward to a time when I won’t get 25 calls every day from volunteers who I can’t fit into our schedule, I know that a bigger part of me will miss the outpouring of support I’ve witnessed this holiday season. Many thanks to our supportive community.

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