austin
3:27 pm
Mon November 22, 2010

Want To Serve People On Thanksgiving? Here's How

If you haven't done it, you've seen it on TV: People serving Thanksgiving meals to the less fortunate. Many families make it a holiday tradition. But if you don't know what you're doing, you might show up to a charity already overwhelmed with volunteers, while other organizations are struggling to find last-minute help.

One of the hottest tickets in town is the Salvation Army Social Service Center on East 8th Street. Their spokesman Bob Cox says they were booked solid by Labor Day.

"We are preparing meals for 1,200 individuals, and we'll have about 135 or so volunteers or so to help serve them," Cox told KUT News. "Our volunteers work in two hour shifts, serving drinks and pies, and taking full plates out to people who are already seated."

Cox says the Salvation Army will be looking for volunteers to serve food on Christmas. They'll begin taking names on Monday, November 29, and Cox says they'll probably be booked solid by the end of next week.

But smaller operations are still looking for help. Saint Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church on West 15th Street is one of them.

"We have a lot people who have already signed up, but we always need help to do other things like cleaning up and setting up," associate pastor June Wilkins said. "If we don't have as many guests as we expect, then we deliver the food to different places around town afterwards."

Finding volunteers to deliver meals by car appears to be more challenging than getting people to help in-house. The kitchen director at North Austin's Bethany United Methodist Church, Lana Smith, sounded like she could use a hand.

"We deliver meals and this year we have so many, way more than we did last year," she said. "We had about 400 last year, and this year we're hitting about 700 right now."

Smith says they get most of their list from the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, which has seen its own increase in demand this year.

 "She was almost in tears when she gave me her list, because it was so long. I said, 'Don't worry about it. We'll take care of it,'" Smith said.

Not everyone serves Thanksgiving meals on Thanksgiving Day. Organizations that dish out turkey and mashed potatoes on other days of the week might also have a harder time recruiting volunteers. 

Here's a list of places serving Thanksgiving meals in Travis County. An organization on that list might need your help.  If you are one such organization and don't see your name on the list, please feel free to add your info in the comments below.

Update on Tuesday, November 23 at 3:34 pm: A couple commenters noted our omission of one of the largest charitable Thanksgiving efforts in town, so we called up Operation Turkey's Richard Bagdonas and asked him a few questions. You can read that post here