Volunteering doesn't have to be all earnestness and moralizing. Listen to Caitlin Bell, who says, "From my experience, it's time better spent than staying in your apartment watching TV. It feels good to be out in the community and to help the community."

Bell, a volunteer with the Washington volunteer organization Greater DC Cares, meets with new volunteers on the fourth Sunday of every month in the Northwest Washington soup kitchen Loaves and Fishes. There she gives them a brief orientation session. She describes the variety of volunteer projects and leadership programs that DC Cares coordinates, and explains how volunteers can be matched with the programs that interest them most.

And then, they cook.

In their first act as volunteers, the new recruits prepare food for more than 300 people at Loaves and Fishes. Bell says she usually recruits about 15 to 20 people to prepare all the food and serve the clients, restaurant-style. After all the cooking and serving are done, Bell, 28, gives a quick goodbye-and-thank-you speech, then follows up with a thank-you e-mail.

"I think volunteering is a great way to get out and meet people of the same age," Bell says. "That's a big motivation."

Why does she think people do not volunteer?

"They may not know of the opportunities out there, and some might feel guilty if they have to sign up for something but know they can't fully commit to it."

She says DC Cares offers a wide range of volunteer events throughout any given month, and that it's not necessary to commit to a regular event.

"They can pick what event they want to attend on a weekly basis," Bell says. "It's hard when you have your own life and you don't want to make a commitment every week."

-- Andrea Caumont

DC Cares volunteer Caitlin Bell serves, literally, monthly at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen, where she also meets with new volunteers.