Ottawa Citizen

The need for vol­un­teers doesn’t end with Christ­mas, char­i­ties say

Spirit of giv­ing and help­ing fades quickly but need re­mains

- ROBIN LEVIN­SON

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.

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