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Why you should consider volunteering when it's NOT the holidays

Salvation Army bell ringer volunteers William Schmidt (L), who is on his 20th year volunteering, and his grandson Bubba Wellens (R) ring their bells in Clifton, Virginia.
Salvation Army bell ringer volunteers William Schmidt (L), who is on his 20th year volunteering, and his grandson Bubba Wellens (R) ring their bells in Clifton, Virginia.
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

The Salvation Army may be best known for its bell ringers, stationed outside stores with their red kettles. The annual tradition depends on hundreds of volunteers, which is great during the holiday season. What about the rest of the year?

Interest can be so strong during winter months the organization actually has to turn away people who want to help, says Amy Hudson, volunteer coordinator for Salvation Army Southern California.

But the Salvation Army needs helpers year-round — not just during the feel-good holiday season.

"I almost tell people that whatever your interest is, we can probably find a volunteer opportunity for you, because we work with everyone. Veterans, homeless, kids, people with illnesses, it's everything across the board," Hudson tells KPCC.

The L.A. Regional Food Bank faces a similar issue. Donations and volunteers pour in to the state's largest food bank during the holiday season.

"Everybody thinks about their family and how blessed they are," Ana Martinez, volunteer director at the food bank, tells KPCC. "I think they realize that not other families are the same."

But the non-profit doesn't just fight hunger during the holidays, it operates year-round. Once January comes, some of that goodwill dries up.

"We always have a little struggle recruiting more volunteers during the first and second quarters. People are tired of giving, tired of donating, tired of volunteering because they've helped during the holiday season," Martinez says.

Food distribution has doubled since the Great Recession. Roughly 12 percent of the people the Food Bank serves are seniors and a quarter of them are kids, according to CEO Michael Flood.

"With the Great Recession hitting, we saw the numbers increase for all age and demographic groups — seniors and families with children, without children, single adults. The number of people struggling with food insecurity is pretty significant across the entire county," he tells KPCC.

Although the economy has improved, the organization still gives out nearly as many meals to people on the street. The L.A. Regional Food Bank serves about 300,000 Angelenos a month. 

If you want to donate, food is always welcome but Flood says the group can do more with a dollar than with a can of corn.