Volunteers abound during holiday season, but not rest of year

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As Thanksgiving rolls around each year, charitable organizations across the Twin Cities see a surge in volunteerism from students and the public.

A feeling of goodwill is part of the holidays, but many organizations wish that spirit would carry on through other parts of the year.

Many organizations find themselves with more volunteers for specific jobs at Thanksgiving than there are positions to fill. Volunteers are often more useful if they are willing to be flexible with times and types of service.

Wendy Darst, volunteer coordinator at People Serving People and a University alumna, said she has found the University to be a valuable resource for volunteers throughout the year.

She said honor societies, community advisers, fraternities and sororities and many others from the University volunteer at People Serving People.

Darst said volunteers log about 2,000 hours of work every month, but they need the most help during the summer and shortly after the new year.

“Believe it or not, (patron) numbers are lower on the holidays,” she said.

The organization needs more volunteers during the summer because people who were helping before tend to disappear, she said.

Darst said there are other advantages to volunteering many students don’t think of. Students can often contribute services directly related to their coursework, giving them practical work experience. She said experience volunteering is also an excellent résumé builder.

Simpson Housing Services, a Minneapolis organization that offers services for homeless individuals, gets volunteers from the University’s service learning program, University staff members and the Hillel Jewish student center.

Christina Griese, volunteer services manager at Simpson Housing Services, said she sees an increase in volunteers around this time every year. She said she asks people to perform other duties or come back another time, but they often don’t.

She encourages people to go to charitable organizations with their special talents or interests instead of offering just food service, she said.

Samantha Mecklenburg, a child psychology senior, volunteered at People Serving People last semester and earned research credit at the University. She said she tutored children and plans to write her senior project about her experience.

“It’s a wonderful shelter and anyone who has an extra three hours a week should go down there,” she said.

Individual volunteers are helpful to charitable organizations but a great deal of help comes from larger groups.

Tyler Smith, a computer science first-year, volunteered at a Thanksgiving dinner at the Marie Sandvik Center with his church group. He said he thinks volunteering is an important responsibility for everyone.

“I appreciate the fact that when I go there I see such a dramatic difference in wealth,” he said. “It helps me get perspective on my life. It’s good to remind yourself there are people in the world that are still starving and cold.”

Food shelters and charitable organizations make significant impacts on the nation, but volunteerism can be found in many ways.

Blaine Hust, president of the University’s chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity, said his fraternity raked the yards of elderly citizens in North Minneapolis last semester. He said the fraternity tries to collect 500 hours of community service between their 53 members each semester.

Hust said the fraternity organizes a major community service event each year, along with several smaller events.

If students want to volunteer, they can contact groups around the University, any charitable organization or Hands On Twin Cities.

Hands On Twin Cities is a service that matches volunteers with area organizations that match their preferences.

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