As Thanksgiving Day nears, local charities that strive to address hunger rely more heavily on volunteers, including individuals and groups. It’s a trend that continues throughout the winter.

The organizations need people to come in and help stock food pantries, serve meals or deliver Meals On Wheels, among other things — including on Thanksgiving.

Here’s a roundup of north metro organizations that could use a hand around the holidays.

CEAP (Community Emergency Assistance Program)

CEAP, a food shelf with a presence in Brooklyn Center and Blaine, sees an average of more than 1,000 families monthly throughout the winter, compared with 900 in other months, according to spokeswoman Tiffany Nguyen.

People’s budgets are stretched thin due to heating bills, car trouble and illness, Nguyen said.

Six years ago, when she started at CEAP, the organization saw around 600 families every month. That number of people has been steadily rising since then, though not to the extent it did at the height of the recession, she said.

To handle the volume, the organization always needs volunteers to stock the food room and act as shopping helpers for its clients. Although the food shelf has moved to a grocery store-like model wherein families can “shop” for the food they want or need, they still need volunteers to help guide them, she said. Volunteers also do “check out.”

Around this time of year, CEAP’s Meals On Wheels program also needs more drivers. That’s because many of its regular retiree volunteers go south for the winter.

This cycle repeats every year and always “causes a panic,” Nguyen said. CEAP has to make sure it has enough coverage for its 13 meal routes. It needs at least that many drivers on a daily basis, and that’s not accounting for sickness or other issues that arise.

Also, the hardest time to get donations and volunteers is January, so that’s something to consider, she said.

To learn more about volunteering with CEAP, visit or call the main line at 763-566-9600.

SACA (Southern Anoka Community Assistance)

SACA, a food shelf in Columbia Heights, is a bare-bones operation with only three staffers.

It’s looking for volunteers to help out in its produce room, which needs to be stocked and restocked every day, according to Dave Rudolph, who heads the organization.

Clients typically come in to SACA twice a month. In addition to their regular food order, they can pick up produce on their second visit, he said.

Produce is expensive and it’s a challenge to ensure there’s enough of it on hand, Rudolph said.

Volunteers help unload the produce deliveries that come in daily. From there, the fruits and vegetables need to be sorted, weighed and put out. Also, volunteers work with clients to “shop” for food and other items in SACA’s thrift store.

The food shelf goes through as much as 42,000 pounds of food in a given month. SACA is seeing 440 to 570 families every month, he said.

People are going back to work, but they’re not making a living wage, he said. In other cases, seniors aren’t getting much from their Social Security or retirement funds, or they have outstanding medical bills.

Even though the economy has improved, “We’re just not seeing a reduction. We’re actually seeing more people come,” Rudolph said.

The place gets about 35 volunteers every week, though it depends on how many hours people can give. “We’re thankful for any help we can get,” he said.

For the holidays, SACA offers its families a choice between a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal, and it also distributes toys. Volunteers are needed day and night.

To learn more about volunteering at SACA, go to or call 763-789-2444.

Alexandra House

Alexandra House in Blaine provides shelter to victims of domestic and sexual violence. Many people don’t realize that it also has a food shelf for those staying at the shelter or coming in for follow-up visits, according to Tina Bronson, a spokeswoman for Alexandra House.

“Right now our shelves are looking pretty bare,” so it has an immediate need for nonperishables, Bronson said.

Although the capacity is for 35 people staying at the shelter for around 20 days at a time, it can go over that. The shelter doesn’t turn any county residents away.

When people leave the shelter, they get a care basket with food, as well.

Volunteers also help provide breakfast, lunch and dinner along with a couple of snacks to its clients. Kitchen assistants can cook or serve meals or clean up afterward, she said.

Some groups come in monthly to prepare food. To sign up, “we just need a little advance notice” to work it out with the cook, Bronson said.

Likewise, a cook is on hand for lunch and dinner, but a volunteer or staffer usually puts out breakfast, she said.

This month, the shelter is collecting donations for the holidays. A holiday wish list is posted online. It serves more than 200 families during the holiday season, according to Bronson.

The Alexandra House also needs help in its donation area, to do the switch-over to winter, Bronson said.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities or to apply, visit and click on “you can help” or call community education coordinator Ashley Bolstad at 763-795-5452 or e-mail

Loaves and Fishes

Loaves and Fishes, a food pantry program that has sites in Coon Rapids and Brooklyn Center, has been around since the 1980s.

The organization went from 10 sites in 2013 to 19 this year. Loaves and Fishes used U.S. Census data and something called the Missing Meals Map and information from Hunger-Free Minnesota to pinpoint “pockets of hunger,” said Cathy Maes, its executive director.

As such, more volunteers are needed to help cook, serve food and wash dishes, she said.

To learn more, go to or call 612-377-9810.

Metro Meals On Wheels

Each weekday, volunteer drivers with Metro Meals On Wheels deliver more than 1,000 meals throughout the north metro area.

Lauren Edstrom, a spokeswoman for Metro Meals On Wheels, said volunteering with the organization “is a great way to make a huge impact in a short amount of time.”

“You bring nutritious food and a friendly visit to seniors and people with disabilities in your community,” she said.

However, volunteers provide a service that goes beyond the hot meals. They’re able to do a “safety check,” to make sure all is well with the client, who is usually a senior or someone with a disability, said Edstrom.

For example, in the winter, it’s important to ensure that the client is warm. During the summer, the opposite is true. The check-in is reassuring for clients’ families, she said. Also, volunteers observe when a caregiver isn’t around or “when the clients don’t answer the door, it will not go unnoticed,” Edstrom said.

To get a sense of how meaningful those check-ins can be for clients, she pointed to a scenario from this summer, with a couple of volunteers from Xcel Energy’s Workplace Delivery Team in Roseville. Volunteers Michele Huset and Deanna Maslowski saw that a client was having chest pains and was having trouble steadying herself. They called 911 and they stuck around to help out, following instructions from the operator. Thanks in part to their quick action, the woman recovered, Edstrom said.

Another way to contribute to Meals On Wheels, which expects to see budget cuts come January, is to participate in the Walk to End Hunger at the Mall of America on Thanksgiving Day, which is Thursday, Nov. 27, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. More information can be found at (The Walk to End Hunger main website is

To learn more about volunteering for Metro Meals on Wheels, go to or call 612-623-3363.


Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at