News & Politics

Lend a Hand This Holiday Season

Want to get into the holiday spirit? Try giving time or money to those in need—not only will you help others, it’ll make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Plus, donations make great end-of-the-year tax write-offs.

This year there are more people who need help than any time in recent memory. Due to job losses and foreclosures, safety-net nonprofits—charities that help people with basic needs—have seen a big increase in demand for services such as food, clothing, and housing.

We asked experts at local foundations and other philanthropic organizations for the names of charities that are doing great work and need support. All of these groups rely heavily on volunteers, so read on to find out how you can get involved.

Bread for the City (1525 Seventh St., NW; 202-265-2400)
When Bread for the City started decades ago, it was just a food pantry connected to a free medical clinic. Now the organization has a food program, a clothing room, a legal clinic, and a program that allows individuals to meet with case managers for social-service information and referrals. The food pantry currently serves about 5,000 households a month. This year, Bread for the City started a program in which volunteers glean surplus products at nearby farms to feed the hungry in a nutritious, healthy way. The pantry is open Monday through Thursday from 9 to noon and 1 to 5.
To volunteer, contact Erin Garnaas-Holmes at
Visit to learn more.

Community of Hope (1413 Girard St., NW; 202-232-7356)
This nonprofit works with homeless families. It has two transitional housing programs for families, one with 20 apartments in Columbia Heights and the other with ten in Congress Heights. The Congress Heights center is a recovery program for women who are rehabilitating from substance abuse. The organization also has a permanent supportive housing program that serves about 50 families and places them throughout the area with a lease under their own name. Community of Hope provides rental support until the families are fully on their feet. Volunteers mentor and tutor kids, participate in arts and crafts, and organize parties and events, as well as help provide child care when needed. This winter, the organization will have an Adopt a Family program to contribute gift cards for families.
For more information about how you can help, contact Karyn Cassella at
Visit to learn more.

Martha’s Table (2114 14th St., NW; 202-328-6608)
Last year, about 80 families requested baskets of produce and nonperishables from Martha’s Table every month. This year, the number increased to more than 300. The nonprofit has been focusing on meeting growing needs while providing healthy food at its pantry, held the last Thursday of every month. It also distributes food with its 25-year-old mobile pantry, McKenna’s Wagon—two vans that serve hot meals 365 days of the year. Other programs include a clothing room with clothes for free and for sale and two nationally accredited after-school programs. This year, the group’s president, Lindsey Buss, was awarded a Meyer Foundation Exponent Award for visionary leadership.
Volunteers are needed to help pack and distribute food, especially in the mobile food pantry. If you’re interested in volunteering, contact Kim Lyons at
Visit to learn more.

Miriam’s Kitchen (2401 Virginia Ave., NW; 202-452-8926)
At Miriam’s Kitchen, programs are focused on chronically homeless men and women. The organization provides breakfast, conducts workshops in which people can meet with a social worker to get assistance, and offers therapeutic sessions in which guests are encouraged to express themselves through art. This year, First Lady Michelle Obama helped out at the Wednesday Afternoon Cafe, an extension of the case-manager program. The First Lady served food and then was presented with a painting that one of the guests had made, which is reportedly now hanging in the White House. In January, the organization will start an evening-meal program, which will run Monday through Friday starting at 4.
If you’re interested in volunteering, contact Ashley Lawson.
Visit to learn more.

Community Support Systems (14070 Brandywine Rd., Brandywine; 301-372-1491)
In Prince George’s County, Community Support Systems has become a one-stop shop for families and individuals in need of assistance. In addition to providing guidance on applying for energy assistance, food stamps, and jobs, the nonprofit operates weekly food pantries at two locations. The pantries are in Baden, open Wednesday and Friday, and in Accokeek, open Friday. Both centers provide fresh fruit, vegetables, canned goods, and dry meats. Other programs include an emergency-service fund, which assists people who may be in danger of losing their homes or utilities; shelter referrals; and advocacy programs for health benefits.
To get information about how you can volunteer, call Claudia Raskin at 301-785-2936.
Visit to learn more.

Interfaith Works (114 West Montgomery Ave., Rockville; 301-762-8682)
A non-sectarian coalition, Interfaith Works has been trying to keep up with some challenging statistics this year: Of the 6,000 families that shop for free at its clothing centers, 30 percent are newcomers. At its women’s shelter, 50 percent are first-time homeless. The emergency-services program, which assists people who are short on utilities or rent, saw a total of 2,600 calls for assistance last year. This fiscal year, that number has jumped to nearly 5,500. The nonprofit also has six housing options for people coming out of homelessness and moving toward greater self-sufficiency, including homes for women with mental illnesses.
To volunteer for Interfaith Works, contact Barbara Garlock at
Visit to learn more.

Manna Food Center (9311 Gaither Rd., Gaithersburg; 301-424-1130)
The Manna Food Center has been striving to end hunger in Montgomery County since 1983. The center feeds about 3,000 families throughout the county each month through its distribution program, which receives referrals from 360 other organizations in the area. Clients can pick up food every 30 days at one of the 19 food distribution locations. Manna also has a food-delivery program for low-income senior citizens and people with disabilities.
The nonprofit looks for volunteers to sort and pack food, donate produce, hold food and fund drives, and help out in its offices. If you’re interested in getting involved, e-mail
Visit to learn more.

Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless (600-B E. Gude Dr., Rockville; 301-217-0314)
The Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless runs emergency housing programs in Maryland. Its Homebuilder’s Care Assessment Center is a shelter for 135 men open 24 hours a day. The transitional program Safe Haven houses single adults who have chronic mental illnesses. The organization also operates a transitional housing program for about 17 families and several permanent shelters for single adults who are chronically homeless. This holiday season, the coalition is looking for people to participate in its holiday gift program for families. Volunteers can donate gift cards, toys, or holiday decorations.
For more information about how you can get involved, contact Teri Brenits at 301-217-0314.
Visit to learn more.

Sowing Empowerment and Economic Development (6201 Riverdale Rd., Ste. 200, Riverdale; 301-458-9808)
This nonprofit has a food distribution program and a clothing closet that serve hundreds of families each month. It’s open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from noon to 3. Other programs include after-school and tutoring opportunities for children ages two to 12, a housing-education program, and a program that teaches basic job and computer skills.
If you are interested in volunteering, e-mail
Visit to learn more.


Northern Virginia Family Service (Oakton Headquarters, 10455 White Granite Dr., Ste. 100, Oakton; 703-385-3267)
Most of this organization’s programs have seen an increase in requests for assistance over the past 18 months. At the food bank, demand has gone up by 50 percent. The group also runs two thrift stores—one in Falls Church and another in Centreville—and staff at both stores have reported a big increase in new customers. The two stores carry gently used clothing, books, and household items at affordable prices. Despite strains, the organization continues to provide housing assistance through transitional homes for mothers and children in Fairfax and Prince Williams county and a family shelter of about 60 beds.
To get involved with Northern Virginia Family Service, contact Jennifer Rose at 703-219-2174.
Visit to learn more.

Reston Interfaith (11484 Washington Plaza W., Reston; 703-787-3050)
When a Reston Interfaith group recently visited a kindergarten class, it asked the children where homelessness comes from. One child raised his hand and replied, “Layoffs!” CEO Kerri Wilson says this shows the effects of the current recession on residents of Fairfax County. Especially affected are the people on waiting lists for Reston Interfaith’s homeless services. The organization owns 40 town homes and 48 apartments for low-income families and individuals who need both permanent and transitional housing. It helps those coming out of shelters by providing three to six months of partial-rent support until residents are stable. Additionally, Reston Interfaith runs a winter hypothermia program—an overnight emergency shelter with hot meals where people can go when all other shelters in Fairfax are full. Other programs include tutoring for third to seventh graders and activities for children in the housing programs. For Christmas, there’s a holiday gift drive, which has already seen a significant increase in requests.
To volunteer or give donations, contact Amy Mcdowell at
Visit to learn more.

Don’t Miss Another Big Story—Get Our Weekend Newsletter

Our most popular stories of the week, sent every Saturday.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.