Volunteer Power

Volunteer Help Spikes During the Holidays, but Local Nonprofits Rely on It Year-Round

"Ninety-eight percent of our power relies on volunteer labor,” says Victoria Hasselbring, manager of donor stewardship at All Faiths Food Bank

By Kim Doleatto November 20, 2023

All Faiths Food Bank distributed 13,000 turkey meals at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and Ed Smith Stadium ahead of Thanksgiving.

Image: Nancy Guth

The urge to help those less fortunate often increases during the holiday season, and organizations that provide food, shelter and other basics to those in need welcome it.

Indeed, nonprofits need volunteers in the days just before and after the holidays— but the need doesn’t recede when the spirit of giving is no longer in the headlines.

“We’re a staff of 70, and 98 percent of our power relies on volunteer labor,” says Victoria Hasselbring, manager of donor stewardship at All Faiths Food Bank. “There are peaks and valleys, and this time of year is easier to fill.”

Although 2023 was spared catastrophic events like a pandemic and damaging hurricanes, inflation is still slashing area wages and fixed incomes. Among the throng of people All Faiths helps across Sarasota and DeSoto counties, like veterans, children and seniors, Hasselbring adds that many young families working full time are struggling, too.

“Salaries aren’t keeping up with the cost of living and many people are one paycheck away from deciding whether they'll pay rent or eat,” she says. Area rents are still some of the highest in the nation.

Along with area partner agencies like churches, the Salvation Army and the Boys & Girls Club, All Faiths will provide 3.6 million meals throughout the holiday season, which spans the end of November through the end of the year.  In 2022, All Faiths served 61,576 people and worked with 3,500 volunteers. “This time of year we have 500 to 600 volunteers, but that might taper down to 300 to 400 outside of the peak time,” Hasselbring says.

The nonprofit is also aiming to spread food distribution to nearby North Port, Englewood and Arcadia.

Dr. April Glasco

April Glasco

Roughly 40 percent of Sarasota residents live in poverty; in DeSoto County, that number is roughly 65. In Arcadia, it’s 68 percent. That’s according to the latest United Way ALICE report, an acronym that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed and reflects those earning more than the federal poverty level, but not enough to afford the basics.

April Glasco of local nonprofit, Second Chance, Last Opportunity (SCLO) sees a familiar need for basics in the City of Sarasota, as well as a similar ebb and flow in volunteer help.

“We have 15 to 20 volunteers right now, but it can go as low as five and as high as 50 in spurts,” she says. Throughout the year, she says, SCLO needs 15 to 20 volunteers to keep operations running smoothly.

The nonprofit distributes diapers, food, clothing, and Christmas gifts for children, and also provides counseling, after-school youth programs, parenting skills classes and even helps with bus fares for interviews and photo IDs for those transitioning into employment and education.

SCLO helped more than 5,275 people last year and Glasco says that the nonprofit has grown with the pandemic, leaving gaps that haven’t closed. Located on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive just north of downtown Sarasota, she sees clients from further communities, like Parrish and North Port, making the trip for its services.

“Many don’t realize it, but most of us are all one step from falling into a crisis. Everyone deserves a second chance,” Glasco says.

Volunteers at both nonprofits help most with sorting, bagging and distribution of goods. Both All Faiths and SCLO are grateful for the help, but the rest of the year can prove a challenge, especially during the summer, in keeping area needs met.

Hasselbring hones in on the benefits for volunteers, too.

“I’ve never met a volunteer who's been dissatisfied with their experience," she says. "You can come as often and put in as many hours as you see fit. People see the need and want to be part of the solution. 

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