- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

Soup kitchens and churches have so many volunteers this Thanksgiving, they’re turning them away — a problem they wish they had during the rest of the year.

“People seem to come out of the woodwork during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays,” said Denise Laux of Messiah United Methodist Church in Springfield. “The rest of the year, [organizations] go begging for volunteers.”

Juliet Orzal, director of volunteers at Martha’s Table, a soup kitchen in the District, has a theory. She thinks the legions of people moving into the area for jobs and away from their families are responsible for such an outpouring.

“People who do not have family to spend the holiday with naturally want to help,” Ms. Orzal said. “I try to find room if it’s an individual. But when a group of 10 calls, I just cannot use that many. We are open 365 days a year, but this is the time everybody wants to help. It is not that we don’t need volunteers — but not all on Thanksgiving Day.”

Martha’s Table hosts two sit-down meals a year: the early Thanksgiving meal held yesterday and one around Christmas.

Volunteers yesterday served about 500 people a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings — roasted turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, salad and sweet-potato pie.

“Just five efficient volunteers is enough,” Ms. Orzal said. But more than 100 people worked in the kitchen yesterday.

She turned away about 100 more.

“The kitchen is just too small,” Ms. Orzal said. “I try to explain it nicely, but people get irritated because they cannot help.”

Volunteers worked in three shifts. The first shift set tables from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. The second followed by serving meals until 3 p.m. The third shift supplied carryout meals until the food was gone.

The charity is a year-round operation that serves meals daily at its 14th Street NW facility and from its mobile soup kitchen. It also has a health education program, clothes-distribution center and adult day care.

During the holiday season, Ms. Orzal sends some volunteers to other charities such as Central Union Mission and So Others Might Eat (SOME). But even some of those organizations are forced to redirect volunteers.

SOME expects to serve about 900 dinners on Thanksgiving Day, but the charity already has too many volunteers for the dining room, said the Rev. John Adams, a spokesman.

The charity serves about that many meals every day.

SOME will need only 25 to 30 volunteers in the kitchen Thursday, but is not letting the extra hands go to waste. The charity will ask volunteers to walk in its second annual Turkey Trot, a walk to raise money for the hungry.

Last year, about 1,000 participants raised roughly $90,000 in the walk, which took place around the Tidal Basin. This year, it will take place on Thanksgiving at Hains Point, beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Though assigning surplus volunteers to work the Turkey Trot is a good idea, Father Adams said the charity really needs them to work in the kitchen during the rest of the year.

Central Union Mission at 1350 R St. NW runs several charitable operations, including clothing and furniture distribution and a meals programs that serves about 500 people a day. About 40 volunteers are needed to help serve some 200 people at the charity’s annual holiday meal.

“Last year, we had 89 volunteers,” said Shelah Wilcox, the mission’s director of volunteers. “That was too many.”

Ms. Wilcox said there is always clerical work to be done, but not too many people want to do those tasks.

“I wish we could get volunteers to answer the phones,” she said.

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