Volunteer opportunities still available for holiday helpers at these nonprofits

Volunteer spots filling up faster as some organizations scale back services

SAN ANTONIO – ‘Tis the season to give back through gifts and time. Across San Antonio, nonprofits are gearing up for their busiest season by stocking up, preparing meals or distributing donations. Local organizations say the pandemic has radically affected the demand for extra hands. Some groups only use 5% of their volunteer force this year, while others struggle to reach all their clients.

“We’re in need of about 20 additional volunteers per day,” Vinsen Faris said, CEO of Meals on Wheels San Antonio.

Volunteers are greatly needed to deliver meals to clients.

“Meals on Wheels has seen requests for meal services just absolutely skyrocket during the entire pandemic,” Faris said.

Faris said the number of people they serve across San Antonio has doubled due to increased awareness of their services. Over 2,500 new clients added since pandemic operations began in March of 2020. Now, more than 4,500 clients receive regular home no-contact meal delivery.

“Family members are more aware of Meals on Wheels. They’re calling for their parents or grandparents and saying, ‘Hey, would you like somebody to check on you and bring meals to you, so you don’t have to get out?’” Faris said. “Most of these folks are what we technically call homebound. They have great difficulty leaving their home. They can’t get out.”

Right now, they’re about 90 volunteers short per week, and they’re not the only ones.

The San Antonio Salvation Army reports a shortage of bell ringers for the annual Red Kettle Campaign. The local Red Cross chapter also said it’s in constant need of help as 90% of its workforce are volunteers.

In an email to KSAT, the Red Cross’ regional communications director, Lucy Walsworth, said, “The American Red Cross urgently needs volunteers and many opportunities are available both in person and virtually in all areas where the Red Cross provides comfort and care.”

On the other side of things, some local nonprofits say they have had to turn volunteers away. The pandemic, they said, has forced them to scale back services.

The folks from the Raúl Jiménez Thanksgiving Dinner cut the number of meals prepared in half, totaling 12,500. Fewer meals mean fewer volunteers.

“This year, we’re at about, from beginning to end, 450 (people), with only about 15 volunteers per shift,” said Patricia Jiménez, daughter of the late Raúl Jiménez and organizer for the annual event. “We’re really just utilizing less than 5% percent of (volunteers than) what we normally have.”

Before the pandemic, about 4,000 volunteers were needed to serve 25,000 warm Thanksgiving meals.

“We are grateful to the volunteers,” Patricia said. “They’re really the backbone of this organization.”

Organizations, including Elf Louise, have also already met their need for volunteers for the holidays.

“Since we are not wrapping or delivering presents to the homes of the applicants, our needs for volunteers are greatly reduced,” said Bill Harrison, executive director of Elf Louise, in an email to KSAT. “Next year, we hope we will be able to go back to wrapping and delivering gifts, which will increase our needs by almost 3,000 people.”

Whether volunteer opportunities are available or not, nonprofits say monetary or item donations are always needed to further their missions and prepare for the next big event.

Those interested in volunteering with the Salvation Army can click here. Volunteers can sign up as an individual or a group and adopt a location for the day.

To help deliver meals to seniors and disabled community members across Bexar County with Meals on Wheels, click here.

To make a monetary donation to the Raúl Jiménez Thanksgiving Dinner, click here. A $5 donation can provide a meal to two individuals.

To donate to the Elf Louise Christmas Project, click here.

About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.