Now that the calendar has turned, we can forget about all that “peace on Earth, goodwill toward men” stuff and go right back to our mainly self-obsessed lives. That may be a little blunt, but to some local charities it’s just the way things are. “We see a tremendous spike in interest” at the holidays, says Alexander Moore, chief development officer of DC Central Kitchen. “The biggest challenge is there’s such a surplus of demand and such a deficit of consistency. People register [to help] during the holidays, but by the time it’s their time to come, they don’t show up.” So local charities need you now. And this spring. And this summer. Maybe for 2016 we can keep the holiday spirit alive all year long.

Girls on the Run
1211 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 304, 443-223-3356, gotrdc.org.

To work with Girls on the Run, you do not need to run. Or be a girl. The charity, which uses running to teach life skills to girls 8 to 13, just needs people willing to give their time one day or more each week. “The volunteers are our lifeline,” says Kristen Komlosy, the organization’s executive director. “You just have to have a real passion around empowering young girls to become confident women.”

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Opportunities range from coaching — which requires a two-day-a-week commitment — to being a member of Team Adelaide, which drops in on a team two or three times over a 10-week season to make sure things are going well. Even if you only have a day, organizers of the season-ending 5K race need help handling the 2,000 or so runners who come out. They also need race day buddy runners, who “race alongside a girl who doesn’t have an adult to run with,” Komlosy says. (Being a buddy runner, though only a one-day commitment, requires a background check.) And don’t worry if you’re a back-of-the-pack runner: “It doesn’t matter if a girl is walking or running,” Komlosy says. “It’s all about empowering her to do great things.”

DC Central Kitchen
425 2nd St. NW, 202-234-0707, dccentralkitchen.org.

Looking at the numbers, DC Central Kitchen’s operation seems pretty cut-and-dried: It gets around 14,000 volunteers a year, many of them from out-of-town church or volunteer groups, and it prepares 5,000 meals a day for distribution to organizations that feed the hungry. Still, many of the volunteers don’t know what, exactly, they’ve signed up for. “People assume they’re coming to a soup kitchen to help people, and then the person they thought they’d be helping is showing them how to hold a knife,” Moore says.

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DC Central Kitchen’s main mission is training at-risk adults for culinary careers so they can move past homelessness, addiction or incarceration. Volunteers work with the men and women in the program and should arrive ready to chop. “The biggest task is processing produce and protein,” Moore says. “So they’re going to be working with knives, making salads, and slicing and dicing.”

Volunteers can sign up for one of three daily shifts; around the holidays the waiting list can extend two or three months into the future. That causes problems, Moore says. “The need is year-round. That’s why we can’t have 100 volunteers one day and nobody the next. It’s not that we don’t want your help; it’s just we need it all year round.”

Washington Humane Society
1201 New York Ave. NE, 202-576-6664, washhumane.org.

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“If there is a snake guy out there who wants to come in, we’d love to have him,” says Stephanie Shain, chief operating officer at the Washington Humane Society. That’s because most people who volunteer at the local shelter’s two locations are there for the dogs and the cats. “We love the people who say, ‘I only want to work with rabbits,’ because they don’t get the same [amount] of volunteer attention as the dogs and the cats.”

Of course, the dogs and the cats need help, too. All on-site volunteers have to go through some training, but those who want to can extend their education and move on to a more advanced level of cuddles. A volunteer might, for example, be assigned to a specific dog and work exclusively with that pup for an extended period of time.

Even pet allergies aren’t necessarily a problem. “Almost every job we do we could use help,” Shain says. “For people who prefer to do office work or administration-type work, we always need that help.” Volunteers can also work at adoption or fundraising events. You can even help without setting foot inside the shelter. “Things like printing out our Pet of the Week and hanging that up at your library or coffee shop, that’s a huge help,” Shain says. “For our animals to get adopted, we need to get them in front of people. The animals do all the work, but it’s about letting people know this dog or cat or rabbit really needs a home.”

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We Are Family Senior Outreach Network
1525 Newton St. NW, 202-487-8698, wearefamilydc.org.

“The folks who most need help are the ones who are going to have a hard time getting to a meal site or a food pantry,” says Mark Andersen, co-executive director of We Are Family Senior Outreach Network. “So we go to them.”
We Are Family’s primary mission is delivering free groceries monthly to more than 600 disadvantaged D.C. seniors. Along with the food comes a visit, usually from the same volunteer every month. The organization also provides transportation to doctor’s appointments and helps seniors deal with government red tape, giving referrals to other services. “If we don’t have the resources,” Andersen says, “we generally know who does.” Any little way We Are Family can help, it helps. Which means it needs a lot of help.

“I’m the full-time staff,” Andersen says. “The half-time co-director is my wife. We could not possibly function without volunteers.”

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Because of their need, “we try to keep things as flexible as we can,” Andersen says. “Whatever time a volunteer might have, whatever gift they have, our job is to make sure we facilitate that desire to give.” Volunteers have even created their own jobs: One person simply sends out birthday cards to every person We Are Family serves. “For our seniors, to get a card in the mail that shows they were being thought about on this day means a tremendous amount,” Andersen says. “It’s a small thing for a volunteer to do, but its impact is immense. It says to them, ‘You are not disposable.’ ”

Andersen says We Are Family values one quality in a volunteer above all others: “Basically, we’re just looking for somebody who has some compassion.”

More articles from Kristen Page-Kirby

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