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Charities count on Thanksgiving dollars and volunteers

People line up to receive food for a Thanksgiving meal November 24, 2009 at the Alameda Food Bank in Alameda, California. Hundreds of needy people lined up for hours to receive a free Thanksgiving turkey and all the fixings to make a meal for their families.

The holiday season that’s nearly upon us isn’t just make-or-break time for retailers. It’s high season for charities that rely on donations. Partly, yes, because people are thinking about those end-of-the-year  tax deductions. But the Thanksgiving spirit in particular can be a recruiting tool for the rest of the year. 

In a warehouse at the Maryland Food Bank, forklifts zip around moving millions of pounds of donated food. It’s not just stuffing and potatoes that pour in this time of year. CEO Deborah Flateman says 60 percent of cash donations come in between September and December. The food bank has to turn away volunteers.

“The volunteers who are coming in and doing work in the food bank today probably made that appointment and that commitment in July,” she says. “That’s how popular this time of year is.”

The challenge is keeping those people involved after the holidays, says Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

“Smart nonprofits use the interest from volunteers who come and serve at the food kitchen and say ‘maybe we can get you more involved in other kinds of ways,’” she says.

And people who volunteer, Palmer says, are more likely to give money, too.

“Sometimes the introduction is made initially during this time of year, when people do step out and seek opportunities for helping,” says Flateman, with the Maryland Food Bank. “We start building relationships that way.”

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.
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