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Hundreds Give Thanks On Thanksgiving By Donating Time

Thanksgiving Volunteering
(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Families eat in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul main campus dining room during Thanksgiving week.

This time of year, many people want to give thanks by giving their time to those in need. This can leave organizations with hundreds of extra helping hands on Thanksgiving asking, "What do we do with everyone?"

On any normal night at one of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s five campuses there are 200 volunteers, maybe 250. They all have a job; some sort through donations; some serve food; some tutor kids. They’re regulars. Jim Chase served dinner Monday night at the main campus.

“I’m here every Monday night, and there’s another shelter down the street that I go to after I leave here. That’s the UMOM overflow shelter,” Chase said.

Chase is with a nonprofit called Phoenix Philanthropists, and they have a group that comes like clockwork for the dinner hour. Chase said they also help out with seasonal activities that need an extra hand.

“For example, there was an Oktoberfest that needed volunteer help, or over Halloween St. Mary’s was doing a Zombie Walk and our volunteers were down there helping out doing that,” Chase said.

But on Thursday, St. Vincent de Paul won’t need any extra help in the kitchen. Laurie Bassett is the Volunteer Services Manager, and she said they have close to 800 people signed up to help.

“Coming into the holiday season, we have a lot more volunteers that, of course, want to help in the dining room,” Bassett said.

But there aren’t enough dining room jobs for everyone. Besides, as Jim Chase and his fellow volunteers know, there’s a system they have going to serve hundreds of meals in a night, and that takes training and practice. So, only a fraction of those new volunteers will actually be dishing out turkey and gravy.

“But that’s fine because we have an overflow opportunity, which is on Thanksgiving day, and we call it our ‘deck the halls,’” Bassett said.

This is the time other projects get completed. Volunteers will be filling bags with tortilla chips, painting the playground, and replanting the garden. They’re odd jobs, but Bassett said it’s a huge help, and it keeps them from having to turn anyone away.

“We can never have too many,” she said. “We’ll always have something for volunteers, so we welcome them and we make it a positive experience because we hope that they come back and become regular volunteers.”

Bassett hopes new volunteers will see what they can do to help and will want to keep coming at a time when there is a greater need, like during the summer.

In the dining room on Monday night, Lisa Herring directed trays of food to the right tables. She started volunteering with her family in September.

“We started coming mainly just so that our kids could get some experience with seeing how good they have it and how other people are struggling and how we can help,” Herring said.

This is the family’s second attempt at making it a regular part of their activities. Herring said it’s been hard to fit it in their schedule. She wants to keep coming back every month as a reminder to be thankful for what they’ve got year round.

Annika Cline was a producer for KJZZ's The Show from 2014 to 2019.