The need for volunteers doesn’t end with Christmas, charities say
Spirit of giving and helping fades quickly but need remains
Hundreds of Good Samaritans volunteered to serve turkey dinners to the city’s homeless and needy this holiday season. But once the final plates are scraped clean, the volunteers disperse, leaving charities short-staffed.
Ann MacDonald, who coordinates volunteers for Shepherds of Good Hope, said that during the holiday season her phone is ringing off the hook with offers to help.
“I get hundreds of phone calls and I didn’t respond to most of them,” she said.
Despite the overwhelming response from do-gooders, the Shepherds could only take about 40 one-off volunteers to help in the soup kitchen on Tuesday.
Getting one of the coveted volunteer spots at a charity dinner takes planning; some events filled up in October.
A week before Christmas, the Ottawa Mission, the Heart and Crown and Operation Big Turkey were also fully staffed with volunteers for their charity Christmas dinners.
“We’re actually having to turn people away,” said Chris Knight, who organizes Operation Big Turkey, a yearly Christmas dinner that feeds more than 1,400 people in Ottawa.
“I don’t do a lot of volunteering and this is the one thing I do every year,” said Robin Smith, who volunteered with Operation Big Turkey.
MacDonald said that around Thanksgiving, people are reminded that there are others in need. And during the holidays, people want to feel like they’re part of their community.
“The spirit of giving is very pronounced during those seasons.”
But while this spirit is strong during the holiday season, MacDonald said it wanes after Christmas.
“Everything drops off,” she said.
MacDonald said she doesn’t fault people for only wanting to help during the holiday season, but wishes the response was as robust all year long.
“The notion of volunteering becomes latent,” she said.
Christmas Day help is always appreciated, but what she said she really needs are people willing to give four or five hours a week to help run the charity’s multiple homeless shelters, soup kitchens, drop-in shelters and food pantry.
It’s not just volunteers; donations also decline after December.
But non-perishable food is needed year-round. In addition to operating a monthly food pantry, MacDonald said the Shepherds serves 1,700 meals a day across its various programs.