Bay Area charities cautiously restart volunteer programs in time for the holidays

ByKumasi Aaron and Juan Carlos Guerrero KGO logo
Friday, October 30, 2020
Charities cautiously restart volunteer programs for holidays
Bay Area charities are working to restart volunteer programs after putting them on hold since the start of the pandemic, just in time for the holidays.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Volunteers have always been an important part of charitable organizations, but it wasn't until the pandemic that it became obvious just how crucial they are to keep non-profits functioning.

Like many food kitchens, St. Anthony's in San Francisco was forced to suspend its volunteer programs when social distancing guidelines were announced in March.

RELATED: SF-Marin Food Bank seeks volunteers for holiday season amid COVID-19 demand

It also had to close its dining room. Instead, workers package meals in containers every day and hand them out to people who line up along Golden Gate Avenue.

The demand for food has gone up. Before the pandemic, St. Anthony's would serve about 2,200 meals a day. It now hands out about 2,800 meals each day.

That is putting a financial strain on the organization.

"The cost of our dining program is 40% higher compared to before COVID," said Suzie Sheedy, director of development at St. Anthony's.

Sheedy said buying biodegradable containers is costing $50,000 extra a month. The loss of volunteers is also hurting financially.

"We usually had 100 volunteers a day and because of COVID, we stopped that," said Sheedy.

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At St. Anthony's, volunteers would do crucial work. They would help prepare the meals in the kitchen and then serve them on trays to people in the dining room.

Since the pandemic, the dining room has been converted to a giant meal assembly line. But volunteers aren't there to help.

St. Anthony's has been limiting the people that can enter their buildings. So it hired temporary workers to prepare meals.

In the past few weeks, St. Anthony's set up a tent on Golden Gate Avenue for people to sit down and eat their prepackaged meals. It has not set up tables because it doesn't have enough personnel to clean and sanitize them.

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The situation is not much different at Glide, which also suspended its volunteer programs.

Before the pandemic, Glide would have about 75 volunteers a day. That number would jump to about 500 volunteers for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"We are working on bringing volunteers back. We really couldn't do what we do without them." said George Gundry, director of the Daily Free Meals Program at Glide.

Marilyn Heiss is one of the few people who have been allowed to volunteer. She used to volunteer at Glide one a week but now is there three times a week.

"In some ways it feels more important. People need the food and there are less people and I am still able to help," said Heiss.

Glide will open its volunteer sign-up process on its website on November 1.

RELATED: South Bay food banks seek more volunteers as demand for food resources grows during pandemic

Even though its dining room remains off limits, it will try to replicate its traditional Thanksgiving luncheon by setting up tables outdoors. It's a service they can't afford to do every day.

The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank is also in dire need of volunteers as the holidays draw near.

Corporate volunteer programs dried up during the pandemic, so the food bank has been relying on individual volunteers to pack food and deliver groceries to seniors.

It used to have 1,200 volunteers a week. It now needs about two-thousand to pack food, deliver groceries to seniors and hand out food bags at pop-up pantries.

"There is a lot of angst. What are the holidays going to be like. We are not going to worry about what we are missing. We are going to make it better," said Gundry.

Here is a list of non-profit groups accepting volunteers:


St. Anthony's Foundation

San Francisco-Marin Food Bank

Sacred Heart Community Service