When President Reagan proposed cuts in spending for social services, he called upon private charities to fill the gaps.

Those agencies in the Washington area, especially those serving the homeless, say their resources and energies are stretched to the bursting point as the holiday season begins.

Workers at food banks and shelters say they are having to turn away needy people; they expect the situation to get worse as the weather grows colder. Donations of food and money and help from volunteers are needed.

"Bread for the City last month had 1,600 requests for emergency food," said the Rev. John Steinbruck, the pastor at Luther Place Memorial Church on Vermont Avenue, a leading advocate for the homeless. "To me, that's scary. (Recently) people stood in a cold, biting rain for two hours to get a bag of groceries. You don't do that unless you're hungry."

The staff at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church, 16th and Newton streets NW, notified social service agencies that usually refer people to the church for emergency food that they can feed only a handful of those who apply.

"We're always running out of food," said Noreen Buckley, the church administrator.

At So Others May Eat (SOME), a soup kitchen at 71 O St. NW, volunteers are serving 600 to 700 needy people a day, up from 400 to 500 last year. A network of churches provides meals to the soup kitchen on a regular basis, but the numbers are straining the well-organized network, according to Sister JoAnne Courneen, a staff member. SOME has had to appeal for canned goods to give the hungry when the food runs out, Courneen said.

In the past, one church brought food for one meal one day a month. Now, Courneen says, SOME is searching for new churches to double up with the existing groups to meet the need.

"We've been fearful of putting too much of a drain on people, but they've really been good about it so far. They know as their money runs out, ours is running out as well," Courneen said. The food distribution program at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Foggy Bottom depends on a hard core of six to 10 volunteers. Last summer, St. Paul's had to discontinue feeding the homeless out of the church hall when the number of people asking for food ballooned from 25 to more than 200 in a few months. Now the church members, together with a few volunteers from four other churches in Georgetown, distribute soup and sandwiches from a van to men living on the heating grates on the Mall and in Foggy Bottom.

"We could use some volunteers right now," said Ted Himmelberg, the coordinator of the feeding program. "I can see we're going to need some really committed people. You see who the real Christians are when the temperature gets down to 10 degrees and there's a 50-mile-an-hour wind blowing outside."

Many times workers in the programs dig down into their own pockets to make up the difference when contributions flag. Erna Steinbruck, who runs the Bethany Women's Shelter across the street from her husband's church, admitted that she often contributes food to feed the 35 women who come to the shelter for the day.

City-run and private shelters are filled to capacity, workers say. Families who have been displaced or burned out of their apartments often wait in emergency shelters for months at a time before they find suitable housing.

Bruce Glover, special assistant to the D.C. social service commissioner, acknowledged that the problem is more severe than usual for this time of year, especially considering the weather has been mild. He said the city government is looking into opening an emergency shelter, probably at Bundy school in Northwest.

"I got a call recently from a woman with a 3-month-old baby and a 22-month-old son," said Don Kerwin, a worker at Sarah House, a women's shelter at 1329 N St. NW. "She was out on the street, had no place to go. I called all over the place. I called the Parkside Hotel. They said they aren't taking families. I called D.C. Protective Services. They told me to call the Parkside. I called a shelter in Alexandria that couldn't take her because she wasn't a resident of Alexandria. Finally I called the House of Ruth and they took her in. Things like that happen every day."

Though the situation is bleak enough now, it may grow even worse if the private agencies operating shelters cannot find some volunteers to stay overnight and keep watch. Kerwin, who schedules volunteers at Sarah House, said he is lending his volunteers to other shelters to keep them open.

"It really is desperate," he said. "If Luther Place (Emergency Shelter) closes down, there will be a lot more people freezing on the street this winter."

The following is a sampling of organizations that need volunteers and donations of money and supplies to keep going this winter. Call before coming to drop items off.

Bethany Women's Center, 1335 N. St. NW. Contact Erna Steinbruck or Connie Ridge at 483-3739. Needs casseroles for lunch every day, volunteers to work with homeless women, and craft materials.

Brethren Soup Kitchen, 337 N. Carolina Ave. SE. Contact Kathy Ludwick or Karen Powell at 547-5924. Needs food and volunteers to make and serve lunch.

Bread for the City, 1305 14th St. NW. Call Cecil Diggs at 332-0440. Needs a van or large station wagon, meat, eggs, canned food and winter clothing.

CCNV Drop-in Center, 632 G St. NW. Contact Lin or Wendy at 628-6309. Needs winter clothing for men, blankets and hams for Christmas dinner.

The Community of Hope, 1417 Belmont St. NW. Contact Estelle Ducharne at 232-9091. Needs food baskets and canned food.

Community Family Life Services, 305 E St. NW. Contact worker on duty at 347-0511. Needs mixing bowls, casserole pans, and towels.

D.C. Council on Clothing for Kids, 2728 Sherman Ave. NW. Contact Mary Ellison at 232-0700. Needs clean children's clothing in good condition and money to buy what's not available.

D.C. Department of Human Services Volunteer Services Office. Contact Toni Gardner at 724-8572. Needs canned food, children's clothing and furniture for families in emergency shelters, Christmas presents for children in foster care, and food certificates for senior citizens.

Gospel Mission, 810 Fifth St. NW. Contact Rev. Lincoln Brooks at 842-1731. Needs clothing, canned goods and Christmas gifts.

Hannah House, 612 M St. NW. Contact Emileen Norris or Nancy Conley at 289-4840. Needs blankets, winter bathrobes, thongs and electric clocks.

House of Imogene, 214 P St. NW. Contact the Rev. Sidney Smith at 797-7460. Needs a heating system and a skilled carpenter to remodel the basement into living space.

House of Laureze, 1330 Monroe St. NW. Contact Luther or Mariann at 232-0421. Needs blankets, beds, sheets and clothing for men.

House of Ruth, 651 10th St. NE. Contact Valerie Ackiss at 547-2600. Needs individually wrapped presents (gloves, sweaters, hats, toilet articles) for each resident on Christmas, handcraft kits and materials, a large clothes dryer.

Loaves and Fishes, St. Stephen and the Incarnation, 16th and Newton streets NW. Contact Dennis Bethea at 265-0142. Needs meat, desserts and nonperishable food for emergency food distribution.

Luther Place Emergency Shelter, 1227 Vermont Ave. NW. Contact Pat Makin at 387-5464. Needs volunteers to stay overnight, casseroles and soups for Friday and Saturday meals and desserts for weekday meals.

Mount Carmel House, 471 G Pl. NW. Contact Sister Maria or Sister Rosa at 289-6315. Needs soap, deodorant, towels, sheets, cleaning supplies and a volunteer workman to do minor repairs

Northeast Mission, 317 Eighth St. NE. Contact the Rev. Luther Hagood at 543-4955. Needs blankets and food.

Rachel's Women's Center, 1006 M St. NW. Contact Kathleen Guinan at 234-9175. Needs volunteers to make lunch, money and casseroles.

SOME, 71 O St. NW. Contact Mary Mitchell at 797-8806. Needs canned goods, powdered milk and used furniture and clothing.

St. Benedict's House, 1648 Fourth St. NW. Contact Scott Duffy at 232-9871. Needs blankets, soap, towels, men's clothing.

St. Francis Hospitality House, 503 Rock Creek Church Rd. NW. Call 829-0340. Needs warm clothing for women and children, and food and blankets.

Sarah House, 1329 N St. NW. Contact Cathy St. Claire or Abbey Giedd at 232-6167. Needs an answering machine, Christmas presents for residents, volunteers to stay overnight, and money.

Shelter and Rehabilitation Program, Blair and Pierce Schools, 1335 G St. NE. Contact Rev. Calhoun at 397-6630. Needs 30 twin bed mattresses, blankets and cleaning equipment.

Temporaries Food for Christmas Foundation, 1015 18th St. NW. Contact Sheila Summers at 659-6532 or Chris John at 296-8072. Will be collecting canned food for the elderly at the Connecticut Connection, Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW, and at Giant Food, Safeway and A&P stores throughout the Washington area during the week of Dec. 6 to 11.

Zacchaeus Community Kitchen, 612 L St. NW. Contact Tom Murphy at 667-4515. Needs money, nonperishable food, and commercial stove and refrigerator.