Mike Koozmin/The ExaminerMeal time: St. Anthony’s volunteers serve meals to hungry visitors. St. Anthony’s started accepting sign-ups for the Thanksgiving volunteer shift in early October.

Mike Koozmin/The ExaminerMeal time: St. Anthony’s volunteers serve meals to hungry visitors. St. Anthony’s started accepting sign-ups for the Thanksgiving volunteer shift in early October.

Volunteers gobble up gigs during holidays in San Francisco

Thelma Moody has put in 16 years at St. Anthony’s, and there was no way she was going to miss out on one of the soup kitchen’s best meals of the year.

Moody is among the lucky few who secured a Thanksgiving Day slot to serve dinner to people in need — and only because she knew to keep an eye out for the sign-up sheet in early October.

Many food banks and soup kitchens are so overwhelmed with do-gooders during the holiday season that they go to extreme lengths to include as many volunteers as possible, and still wind up turning away people who want to help.

“When it gets close to the holiday, it’s like having Super Bowl tickets,” said Stacy Newman, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Food Bank.

The food bank, St. Anthony’s and Glide each increase the number of daily volunteers between Thanksgiving and Christmas in part to handle an influx of food and guests, but also to fulfill the greatest number of good Samaritans’ holiday wishes.

St. Anthony’s and Glide both met their Thanksgiving volunteer caps in three days, with 120 and 700 people, respectively, according to St. Anthony’s spokesman Karl Robillard and Glide community building director Jean Cooper.

But the organizations have maximum capacities, so they offer other ways to help out — donating food or money or signing up to serve during a less popular month, among other options. St. Anthony’s even started a scarf drive, encouraging people to knit something for guests.

Some volunteers lose sight of the meaning of volunteering — putting others first — and become angry when organizations can’t accommodate their desires.

“People think, ‘Oh, I’m a volunteer, you can always use me,’” said Annie McShane, the food bank’s volunteer services manager. “To hear, ‘We’re booked,’ I think that’s a little mind-blowing for them.”

Every year, party crashers not on the volunteer list show up at Glide’s dinner, Cooper said. They’re herded into a separate room, where a volunteer coordinator on bouncer duty determines if there are any openings.

But for those who know the drill, serving dinner trays is a tradition.

Zoe Pollock, 18, first served Thanksgiving dinner at St. Anthony’s when she was 11 and has come back with her aunt and mother every year since.

“The people I got to know there helped me become who I am,” Pollock said. “I became more understanding of people, weighing in their circumstances, giving them a chance.”

Now a college freshman, Pollock won’t make it home for Thanksgiving this year, but she plans to get back to her family at St. Anthony’s for Christmas.

sgantz@sfexaminer.com

Help for holidays

Ways to help out — in case you didn’t know you needed to sign up a month in advance:

– Sign up for a meal shift during the nonholiday season. Glide and the food bank have online calendars for easy signup; St. Anthony’s has a volunteer hotline.
– Donate food, grocery store gift certificates or money

  • Glide: (415) 674-6000, www.glide.org
  • San Francisco Food Bank: (415) 282-1900, www.sffoodbank.org
  • St. Anthony’s: (415) 592-2726, www.stanthonysf.org

– St. Anthony’s is collecting hand-knit scarves in dark- or bright-colored wool yarn blends. Scarves should be 5 to 7 inches wide and 48 to 60 inches long. Drop off or mail scarves to: St. Anthony Foundation, Attn: Knitting Project, 150 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102

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