Giving back: River Food Pantry needs volunteers year round

The holidays aren't the only times to volunteer
Giving back: River Food Pantry needs volunteers year round

Rhonda Adams gets the same type of emails every year around this time. They’re inquiries from families wanting to donate or serve dinner at the local soup kitchen around the holidays. “My standard response: ‘We’re here all year long,’ ” she says.

Adams, the director of volunteer engagement and operations at The River Food Pantry, understands that it’s human nature to want to give back during the holiday season. But it’s not Thanksgiving and Christmas Day when they need volunteers. At The River Food Pantry, Fridays are the busiest days. That’s when the northside nonprofit opens at night for a shopping session, and free rides home are offered to the northside or far eastside. “We know that’s very important to shoppers,” says Amy Lord, development director for the food pantry. When someone has 75 pounds of groceries to get home without a car, riding the bus or a bike becomes an impossible task.

But December remains the largest giving month across all sectors, according to Blackbaud Institute’s 2016 Charitable Giving Report. Lord says the pantry encourages volunteers to pick other months instead of November and December (when they have enough volunteers on certain days). “We hate doing it,” Lord says, but the pantry is only so big, and they want to offer shoppers a comfortable space.

Adams and Lord know volunteers are vital to the food pantry’s operation. In 2016, 40,810 volunteer hours were clocked, the equivalent of 20 full-time employees.

The pantry gets more than enough volunteers in the last two months of the year. While it’s to the credit of hardworking volunteers and staff that the pantry doesn’t serve a meal on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day (because they’ve raised enough money and food items to give families everything they need to prepare a holiday meal at home), the need for volunteers continues in January, February and the busy summer months. “All year long,” Lord says.

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