Season of Wishes: Volunteers vital to local organizations

Published 12:31 am Sunday, November 29, 2015

(Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat)

(Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat)

With scoop in hand, Dr. Brenda Moore doled out servings of stuffing on Thanksgiving Day.

Moore wasn’t at her house though, and the people surrounding her were not family members. Instead of spending the holiday at home they, like Moore, were volunteering at the Natchez Stewpot feeding those in need.

“I’m abundantly blessed, and I just want to bless someone else,” Moore said.

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The Stewpot is one of the many volunteer-run organizations in Natchez.

“We’ve got so many volunteers that help out in so many different ways, whether it’s Stewpot or the Humane Society or Habitat for Humanity, there’s so many volunteers,” Stewpot volunteer Norma Williams said.

Over the next month, The Natchez Democrat will feature many of these non-profit organizations in a series titled Season of Wishes. Each article will detail the efforts of charitable organizations in the area, and offer information on how you can help.

“Natchez is just a pretty giving community,” Natchez Habitat for Humanity Secretary Duncan McFarlane said. “Maybe that’s just typical of many small towns, but you just look at the number of volunteer organizations we have.”

And the continued survival of those organizations depends on the community. Even when an organization has some paid staff, many times the group still needs people who are willing to donate time and resources.

“The Humane Society in the past has been almost entirely volunteer-driven as far as management and oversight,” NACHS President Kathy Fitch said. “We’ve had a small group of paid employees, but they have to be supported by the volunteers.”

Fitch said approximately 80 percent of the Humane Society’s budget comes from fundraisers, which are run by volunteers. Using those funds, in addition to volunteers’ time and dedication, the NACHS saves approximately 1,400 animals each year.

“That would not be possible without the volunteer force,” Fitch said. “In no way would that be possible.”

And, while the need exists year-round, the time around Christmas is special.

“I think more people are aware of the benefit of doing work for people less fortunate than themselves,” McFarlane said.

“So, combine it with the Christmas season, and the fact that so many are out of school at that time, it probably generates the interest we get during the holidays.”

Time is often a factor for many volunteers. Moore, who works as the Concordia Parish School District’s supervisor of child welfare and attendance, doesn’t have time during the week to volunteer. It’s why she uses holidays and weekends to go to the Stewpot.

“I would work here more if I had the opportunity,” Moore said.

The work of charities also doesn’t stop for the holidays. Animals in the shelter still need help getting adopted no matter what day it is.

“They don’t really have a family,” NACHS volunteer Samantha Montgomery, 14, said. “They’re still stuck in the shelter on holidays.”

For the Stewpot, work actually increases over the holidays. The organization had to prepare to serve approximately 500 meals on Thanksgiving, a number which had been steadily increasing in the lead-up to the big day.

“It just wouldn’t be possible for a place like the Stewpot to exist without the huge volunteer army we have,” Stewpot Director Amanda Jeansonne said.

Without volunteers, Habitat for Humanity wouldn’t have been able to build its houses.

“They need workers,” Volunteer Charles Thomas said. “Anybody can volunteer and I guess it’s a self-satisfying feeling to be helping a neighbor or someone that’s less fortunate.”

With a construction background, Thomas has helped put a roof over the heads of many Natchez residents.

“I know one or two houses my wife and I just about put the whole roof on the house,” Thomas said.

But not all jobs are specialized. Throughout her time at the shelter, Montgomery has assisted in everything from cleaning kennels to photographing animals.

The Stewpot also offers various ways to help, ways that might not even involve cooking or serving. Williams and her husband, Bill Williams, drive and deliver food around Natchez.

“It only takes about an hour and a half out of your schedule,” Norma Williams said. “And, to me, you get such a warm and fuzzy feeling afterward you feel like you’ve actually accomplished something and helped people in need.”

Tasks as simple as organizing incoming canned food donations can make a difference.

“That’s a huge job this time of year because we have so much canned food coming in,” Jeansonne said.

All of the different tasks represent ways to help others. For Thomas, his way is to help build houses.

“If we call ourselves Christians and we don’t help our neighbors, we’re not living proof of being a Christian,” Thomas said.

Montgomery found her niche in caring for animals, whether photographing them or just sitting with them for a while.

“I just think that no one should be left alone on Christmas or any other kind of holiday,” Montgomery said.

But no matter what the task or organization, all of them need one thing this season — community support.

“After all, it is the Christmas season and sometimes the best gifts are from the heart,” Williams said.