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    Shelters stuffed with holiday volunteers

    Local charities report they have plenty of helpers to serve up meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but food is still in short supply.

    By BABITA PERSAUD, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published November 23, 2002


    Hoping to find a little holiday spirit by serving turkey to the less fortunate?

    Sorry. Not this Thanksgiving.

    Here's the recording you get when you phone the volunteer line at Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa:

    "Owing to the generous response of the Tampa Bay community to our volunteer needs, we have now filled every volunteer position through the holidays."

    The shelter on N Florida Avenue isn't the only Tampa Bay charity turning help away.

    The St. Vincent De Paul Society in St. Petersburg, which serves a community meal on Thanksgiving Day, is reporting an overload of Good Samaritans. So is Hands on Tampa, a United Way volunteer center that caters to about 40 different organizations.

    Lorena Rivas, program manger at Hands on Tampa, said the reason is simple: Many of the people who offer to work on holidays are parents who want to bring their children.

    They want to expose their kids to "the problems of the community," she said.

    But there are only so many available slots.

    Metropolitan Ministries by August had filled all the volunteer positions it uses to pack to-go meals and serve hot ones this holiday season. That includes 130 each for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

    "Everyone wants to volunteer those two days," said Lesa Weikel, community relations coordinator at the shelter.

    What the charities really need right now are turkeys, preferably with all the trimmings, she said.

    As of Friday, Metropolitan Ministries had only 760 turkeys. It needs 5,000 for Thanksgiving and another 5,000 for Christmas. St. Vincent also reports a shortage of food.

    The organizations are asking people to do food drives in their neighborhoods, churches and workplaces.

    Checks also are good.

    As Metropolitan Ministries notes in its recording, "Please call us back in January as the needs of the poor and homeless continue throughout the year."

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