Volunteering is as seasonal as Jingle Bells


photo by Bergin/Tribune News Service

It’s a crisp November morning in the hip neighborhood of Shaw in our nation’s capital, and scores of college students and young professionals are streaming through the back door of a small Universalist church on the corner of 16th and S streets. Site coordinator Graeme King welcomes the volunteers in his broad, Scottish accent to the Food for All DC program. In minutes the activities are underway. Food for All DC is a nonprofit organization that delivers food to homebound residents in all four quadrants of Washington, D.C. On a day so close to the holidays such as this, volunteers flood the open room that leads into the back alleyway. This similar scene, however, is much less populous compared to other times of the year.

King said the flow of volunteers for the program ebbs during the summer months. This decrease of workforce is common among many nonprofits. It is understandable that people may feel more charitable around the holidays and therefore want to help those less fortunate. These people in need, on the other hand, do not only exist around the holidays but depend on these programs year round. According to a survey done by charitynavigator.org, of the people surveyed, 38 percent said they were more likely to do charitable activities around the holidays versus other times of the year.

A large number of those who volunteer do so in order to fill a requirement for an education establishment or as an obligation to a religious group. Students in FCPS are required to complete at least 40 hours of community service before graduation. Many college fraternities and sororities also have service requirements as do organized religious groups which accounts for 33 percent of all volunteer activity, according to the U.S. Department of labor. At Food For All DC, the majority of volunteers stem from college frats and sororities and make up most of the labor base during the dry summer months. However, on a November morning like this, with the holidays so near, more lone individuals start to appear from the surrounding neighborhoods or nearby Maryland. Where are all of these people during the months of June, July and August? The common answer would be on vacation, but the college students who make up the volunteer base in these months also have families to go on vacation with. Without any form of group requirement above them, many regular DC dwellers do not find the need to go out and take part in these activities. Most of those unaffiliated with such groups are generally regulars at this program, but new faces are usually scarce.

As the goodwill of the holidays draws to a close, that small church in the heart of our nations capital grows a bit more hollow as the neighborhood residents and yuppies retreat back to their daily lives and the college students come rolling in.