Every year, thousands of Australians seek to get into the true spirit of giving by volunteering on Christmas Day. But many are disappointed as they discover that soup kitchens and support services are oversubscribed or closed. Organisations like The Salvation Army and Melbourne’s Sacred Heart Mission give priority to regular volunteers and are forced to turn down countless other offers of assistance.
The Salvation Army
Salvation Army Victorian Volunteer Co-ordinator Glenyse Guinan believes people are motivated by a real desire to get back in touch with the “spirit of Christmas” and give something back to others.
During December, Glenyse receives more than 20 calls a day from prospective Christmas Day volunteers in her Victorian office alone. “We don’t want people to think that we don’t want volunteers, because we couldn’t survive without them, however, volunteers build strong relationships with clients throughout the year, which makes it difficult to take on new people on Christmas day,” she says. “Emotions are heightened at Christmas time, which makes the volunteer training we provide and the experience volunteers gain during the year all the more important.”
Sacred Heart Mission
The Sacred Heart Mission feeds the homeless and hungry every day of the year, with the aid of 700 regular volunteers. More than 150 of these regular s offer their services for the Sacred Heart M ission’s annual Christmas lunch, but only 60 volunteers are needed.
After Christmas, and through January, not-for-profit organisations are desperate for volunteer help. Volunteer Coordinator Gerardine Enright says that during January many of the regular volunteers , as well as full- time staff, take time off to be with their families or simply have a break.
SecondBite & FareShare
SecondBite collects fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and deli items from donors and redistributes them to local agencies that assist those in need. FareShare utilises food donated by Victorian businesses to create meals in its purpose-built kitchen. Both organisations are closed over Christmas.
FareShare Chief Executive Officer Marcus Godinho explains that it is easier and more cost effective for not-for-profit organisations to shut down over the Christmas period when so many volunteers and staff members take time off. “The consequence of doing that is there is far less support for those in need across the community,” he says.
Both SecondBite and FareShare experience a spike in the number of people who want to volunteer with the organisation on Christmas Day. However, without active agencies to feed people, their work is redundant.
“It’s great that people want to help others at a time that is difficult but what charities really need is people willing to help on September 22 and May 3 as well as on Christmas day,” he says.
The message is clear – there are 364 other days of the year ripe for volunteering , and January is an ideal time to sign up. Becoming a regular volunteer before the Christmas period is the best way to avoid disappointment when it comes to doing your bit on Christmas D ay.