Finding volunteers sometimes difficult

We’re only a few weeks into 2014, but the holidays are already a fading memory … leaving us with the not so merry task of reducing credit card debt and egg nog pounds.

And our post Yuletide morose isn’t made easier by the polar vortex that dropped by after the New Year like unwelcome house guests who also brought their three dogs.

While we all try to deal with end-of-year excess, local not for profits are struggling with a different kind of “holiday hangover.” As usual, volunteers turned out in droves from Thanksgiving through December, eager to spread peace on earth and goodwill toward men, especially those less fortunate.

But after the mistletoe is packed up and we’ve donated our time and turkeys to the needy, let’s face it: All we really want to do is hunker down until Opening Day at the ballpark.

A shortage of volunteers this time of year is not unique to the Naperville area. A recent report in the San Francisco Business Times, for example, noted a 10 percent decrease from Bay Area pantries.

It’s that same news story Shelly Schmitz, director of volunteer engagement for Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry of Naperville, posted online when she was promoting an open house recently to attract volunteers. She credits social media, and a “forward-thinking CEO,” with helping keep ahead of the problem that presents itself this time of year.

The open house, advertised on numerous Facebook posts, Twitter and other online sites, netted 61 new volunteers by focusing on families, teens and youth, as well as churches and service groups.

“We have to maintain an active volunteer base to function,” Schmitz said.

Even with 900 people on the list, “we have to constantly look at opportunities to bring new people in.”

Donna Lake, director of communications for the Northern Illinois Food Bank, says the drop off from family, corporate and service group volunteers after the holidays makes it much more difficult to serve the 800 different feeding programs in a 13-county area.

“We really do need volunteers more than ever,” she said.

As does Michael Cobb, the new director at Hesed House, the homeless shelter in Aurora that serves many of the region’s homeless.

“Because we receive so many volunteer inquiries leading up to and during the holidays, we develop a call list to reach out to folks after the first of the year as openings develop,” he said. “Most holiday-related callers want to serve food on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. And our church groups and others are booked from year to year. So in January, we begin formatting openings and opportunities for the first quarter of the year.”

Likewise, at DuPage PADS, donations have dropped off after the holidays, but the overnight volunteer staff, which now benefits from an online training program, is fortunately set months in advance.

Still, the need for volunteers, added Executive Director Carol Simler, “never goes away.”

And Old Man Winter doesn’t help the cause. People struggle even more to survive as they must take on additional costs like higher utilities, car and furnace repairs. At the same time, volunteer numbers dip because many of those giving their time are older and find it difficult to battle snow, ice and freezing temperatures to serve at pantries or shelters.

Whether you can volunteer on a schedule or give an occasional hour or so, your help is welcome at pantries to unload, sort and distribute food. For the Food Bank, Lake said there’s even a need for specialized services such as marketing or finance.

Bottom line: Many not for profits are currently spreading donations and volunteers as thin as the peanut butter that becomes a hot commodity this time of year.

Helping out Here are some places to lend a helping hand to help those in need: Northern Illinois Food Bank 630-443-6910; solvehungertoday.org DuPage PADS 630-63846; dupagepads.org Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry 630-355-3663; loaves-fishes.org Hesed House 630-897-2156; hesedhouse,org

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