Tom Sherwood’s Notebook: Volunteer? Yes, you, now …

0

It’s not Thanksgiving.

It’s not Christmas.

Advertisement

There’s been no flood, no fire, no terror attack.

But, you are still needed. Yes, you.

And you especially are needed now.

Monsignor John Enzler of Catholic Charities says the need is great year round, especially the summer. Catholic Charities is sponsoring a “Summer of Service” to draw volunteers to any of its 70 unique projects — something for anyone inclined to give time.

“It’s a chance for those who are enjoying the vacation season, who might have a little extra time to get involved in a project that allows them to serve the most needy in our midst,” Enzler told the Notebook.

Back in 2013, when a federal government shutdown was imminent and threatening the church’s programs, Enzler was a bit blunter: “It’s not an option for us to simply stop our services.”

For example, Catholic Charities hosts a weekly Wednesday dinner for anyone who is homeless or simply hungry. Saint Maria’s Meals is held at the James Cardinal Hickey Center, 924 G St. NW, and depends upon volunteers for service. “We usually serve up to 100 people each week, but all are welcome,” a spokeswoman told us.

Catholic Charities says one in six D.C. households has difficulty affording enough food, including about 200,000 children at risk of hunger every day. In the District and the suburbs, many children depend on school meal programs that are not as readily available in the summer.

The Summer of Service includes food service, assisting the homeless, community restoration and much more. You can even play bingo at Mulumba House — a chance for homeless men to have positive social interaction. One volunteer recently posted on the Catholic Charities Facebook page, asking “Am I good at [calling] Bingo? Not really … but those staying in the shelter love to play.”

Catholic Charities is also happy to receive financial donations if you can’t give time.

A separate social service, Food for All DC, is a much smaller operation. It’s been in the District since 1984, and it delivers desperately needed food to hundreds of clients. It’s in a drought season for volunteers, too. “The summer is bleak,” said Graeme King, the organization’s volunteer coordinator.

“We rely 100 percent on volunteers and have an incredible following of regulars as well as new folks,” he told the Notebook. “Yet we struggle to attract volunteers during our lean summer months.”

The food delivery program serves elderly citizens, those with disabilities, single mothers and others in need. It makes more than 3,000 deliveries a year to more than 200 households across all four D.C. quadrants — all year, not just during the holiday season.

Catholic Charities and Food for All DC are just two of dozens of local social service groups that depend on volunteers. Check your calendars, search around a little on Google to see what you might do, and visit foodforalldc.wordpress.com.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens features flowering lilies and lotuses. (photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

■​ A ‘hidden jewel.’ A different volunteer opportunity is available at one of the coolest but least-known spots in the city — the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. It is “an incredible wetland and natural riparian environment” just minutes northeast of downtown Washington.

It’s 700 acres of unique lotus and water lilies (blooming now) in addition to wildlife, trails and recreation grounds. The Audubon Society identified 59 different bird species there a few years ago.

It all sounds nice and historic, but there is a big volunteer need right now. The Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, celebrating its 10th year as a nonprofit, is looking for volunteers, board members and others who want to make “this hidden jewel” into one of the city’s “shining jewels.”

Friends help staff spring break programs for elementary students and other environmental education. The friends group estimates it has volunteered the equivalent of $258,000 in services over the past 12 months. There are 10 specific volunteer events a year.

As volunteer Tina O’Connell told us, the friends especially are looking for nearby community members in Ward 7 along with volunteers citywide — people with “interest in green space, place-making, and connecting at-risk youth and their families to nature.” There is no better place for learning than outdoor space, no matter who you are. Visit friendsofkenilworthgardens.org to learn more.

You can sample — and maybe fall in love with — the gardens this coming weekend and next week. The park is celebrating peak bloom with the upcoming Lotus and Water Lily Festival week that starts on Saturday with a day full of animal demonstrations, live performances and family activities.

Perhaps we’ll see you there.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.