Many of us look to the holiday season as the perfect time to get our warm and fuzzies by volunteering our time to various charitable organizations to fight issues like hunger and homelessness.
However, hunger doesn’t take a holiday, and the need for extra hands is a year round concern for places that rely on volunteers to keep food on the plates of those who need it.
Organizations like St. Vincent de Paul and Shepherds of Good Hope do benefit from an influx of volunteers around the holiday season, but their needs are not limited to any time of the year.
“During holiday seasons we have a huge influx in volunteers, which is so helpful because our regular volunteers often want the holidays off,” says Sue Alcott, manager of volunteer services at Ottawa’s Shepherds of Good Hope. “Our reality is that we’re a 24/7 operation, 365 days of the year.”
Limited resources at organizations like Shepherds of Good Hope mean that they cannot afford to payroll a full staff capable of handling all the demand.
“In any given day we need over 30 volunteers to help us provide the best quality service to our community, so we’re always recruiting,” says Alcott. “In the spring and summer many volunteers take time off to travel or be with their families and so we often find ourselves short-handed in warmer months.”
Some organizations, such as the St. Vincent de Paul in Ottawa, rely heavily on student volunteers to keep their organizations running smoothly.
“Our volunteer base at St. Vincent de Paul stores consists of 60 per cent students,” says James Strate, executive director of the Ottawa location. “Students who need to fulfill their 40 mandatory hours in order to graduate, but once they become involved they feel the need to stay and serve those who are hurting in our community.”
Different organizations feel the need for volunteers at different times of the year. While Shepherds of Good Hope hurt during the warmer months, the coming of the colder weather increases demands at St. Vincent de Paul, who provide clothing and household items to those in need.
“St. Vincent de Paul stores’ busiest times during the year are August and September when school is about to start with parents and students trying to find suitable clothing and outerwear,” says James Strate.
Courtney Roy, a second year Honours BA student specializing in theatre who still finds time to volunteer both at Shepherds of Good Hope and in a special education class.
“I continue volunteering because I want to be a special education teacher one day so it’s good experience,” says Roy. “ It also reminds me to not take my life for granted.”
Roy says that volunteering outside of the holiday season shed a new light on the reality that the workers face year round.
“No matter what time of year, the workers are always appreciative because the work never ends for them,” she says. “After Christmas, there isn’t a big supper to prepare, but it goes back to the daily tasks like laundry, room cleaning etc. So just having help with the not as glamorous and fun volunteer tasks is helpful and the workers definitely appreciate it.”
Although the year-round volunteer work may not be as exciting, Roy says the payoff is equal, and definitely worth the time.
“In general, I do volunteer work because it gives you more than it takes from you,” says Roy. “The effort and time commitment of a day or afternoon is completely worth the smiles you can put on people’s faces or the feeling of knowing someone else’s life has somehow been bettered.”