For some, it's as dependable as a New Year's resolution: "I am going to volunteer at a homeless shelter on Thanksgiving!" But then you wind up on the family couch in a post-feast gluttony daze. "Maybe next year."
Or maybe you've decided this is really going to be the year, and head to a homeless shelter on Thanksgiving morning only to discover that it's been booked solid for weeks. With that in mind, here are some solid holiday volunteering opportunities that will help match intention with action.
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Sheriff Marlin Gusman continues the annual Orleans Parish Sheriff's Thanksgiving Dinner, now in its 34th year, a huge fete at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (900 Convention Center Blvd.) that serves thousands of meals and features entertainment by Irma Thomas. "We'd love to have you," says organizer Elaine Frantze. The dinner runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and volunteers are advised to wear comfortable shoes and show up at 9:30 a.m. There's free parking at the Uptown end of the Convention Center's parking lot. Report to the registration area outside of Hall D and you'll be directed to where help is needed. "Volunteers will be assisting people off and on the buses," Frantze says, "and assisting them to their seats, serving food and drinks." She points out that many guests otherwise would spend the holiday alone. "Sometimes all people need is for someone to sit there and talk with them."
Bridge House is booked for Thanksgiving, says Income Development Director Wayne Olivio, "But we will accept food and donations — that, we'd love to have." Through Wednesday, people can bring Turkey Day treats to Bridge House's new digs at 4150 Earhart Blvd. or send a donation to Wayne's attention at 1160 Camp St., New Orleans, LA, 70130 (www.bridgehouse.org). Bridge House has volunteer slots for its Christmas Day dinner but they're filling up fast. Call 821-7135 to sign up.
The New Orleans Mission (1130 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.) also is completely booked on Thanksgiving Day, says director Loretta Smith, but volunteers can help the day before and the day after the holiday. They're busy preparing food baskets this week for drop-ins. "Everything that we do, we rely on volunteers," Smith says. "Prior to Katrina we had 28,000 donors, and now it's 3,800. We had 18 paid staff pre-Katrina, and now there's five of us." Volunteers should call Smith at 270-4967 to arrange a time.
There's an ongoing need for volunteers at area shelters and outreach organizations, and this is clearly the high season for service. "We're inundated with calls and emails around the holidays," says Melanie Stevens, volunteer director at the New Orleans Second Harvest Food Bank (700 Edwards Ave., 734-1322; www.no-hunger.org), "but we're feeding people all year 'round. The need is there not just on Thanksgiving and Christmas."
Second Harvest will be closed on Thanksgiving and its pre-holiday volunteer shifts are booked, but the organization serves a dual purpose: distributing food and information. Contact Second Harvest for a list of organizations around the city that sponsor some sort of holiday outreach or dinner and need volunteers, but it is best to call before heading to any of them. Hands On New Orleans is another good volunteering resource (483-7041; handsonneworleans.org).
No excuses this year!