Too Many Volunteers Come to Help During Holiday Season

( [email protected] ) Nov 25, 2003 10:58 AM EST

Many charities and churches are overflowing with volunteers this Thanksgiving and this is somewhat seen as a problem to the church leaders considering only a few volunteers come to help during the rest of the year.

"People seem to come out of the woodwork during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays," said Denise Laux of Messiah United Methodist Church in Springfield. "The rest of the year, [organizations] go begging for volunteers."

Juliet Orzal, director of volunteers at Martha's Table, a soup kitchen in the District says

"People who do not have family to spend the holiday with naturally want to help. I try to find room if it's an individual. But when a group of 10 calls, I just cannot use that many. We are open 365 days a year, but this is the time everybody wants to help. It is not that we don't need volunteers — but not all on Thanksgiving Day."

Martha's Table serves meals daily through its mobile soup kitchen including two sit-down meals a year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The charity also offers health education program, clothes-distribution center and adult day care.

Yesterday, around 100 volunteers served about 500 people a Thanksgiving meal with roasted turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, salad and sweet-potato pie, working in three shifts – table setting from 9 am to 11am, meal serving from 11am to 3pm, and carryout meals supplying until the food was gone. "Just five efficient volunteers is enough," Ms. Orzal said. She turned away about 100 more because of the small size of the kitchen.

"The kitchen is just too small," Ms. Orzal said. "I try to explain it nicely, but people get irritated because they cannot help."

During the holiday season, Ms. Orzal sends some volunteers to other charities such as Central Union Mission and So Others Might Eat (SOME). But even some of those organizations are forced to redirect volunteers.

SOME expects to serve about 900 dinners on Thanksgiving Day with about 25 to 30 voolunteers, but the charity already has too many volunteers who wish to work in the kitchen said the Rev. John Adams. SOME is planning to ask the volunteers to walk in its second annual Turkey Trot, a walk to raise money for the hungry. Through this event they were able to raise about $90,000 last year. Last year it took place around the Tidal Basin but this year, it will take place on Thanksgiving at Hains Point at 8:30am.

Reverend Adams said the charity really needs them to work in the kitchen during the rest of the year not only on Thanksgiving or Christmas. The mission’s director of volucteers Shelah Wilcox commented that there were too many volunteers last year.

"Last year, we had 89 volunteers," said Shelah Wilcox. Ms. Wilcox said there is always clerical work to be done, but not too many people want to do those tasks. "I wish we could get volunteers to answer the phones," she said.

Central Union Mission at 1350 R St. NW runs several charitable operations, including clothing and furniture distribution and a meals programs that serves about 500 people a day. About 40 volunteers are needed to help serve some 200 people at the charity's annual holiday meal.