Portsmouth volunteers rally round to make Christmas specialÂ
It's thatÂ time of year whenÂ there is an undeniable cheer in the air, when spirits are high and we are thinking about giving to and spending time with our loved ones.
So it's not surprising many of us turn to charities to find out howÂ we can also give to those in need.
During the festive period they Â are inundated with requests from good-willed people wanting to give back to the homeless, the isolated and elderly, or those who can't afford meals or presents.
And while that is fantastic, the project co-ordinator for FoodCycle Portsmouth, which provides three-course meals to the needy twice a week in the city,Â has likened the situation to the popular phrase about dogs '“Â '˜A puppy is for life, not just for Christmas'.
As a volunteer-turned-paid-employeeÂ for the scheme, Gail BairdÂ knows the benefits of giving up her time to help those in need '“Â at all times of the year '“Â all too well.
'˜Christmas is the time when the most people want to volunteer, they have more time, and they enjoy helping out during that period because it's upbeat,' says Gail, who lives in Old Portsmouth.
'˜In the same way a puppy isn't just for Christmas, neither is volunteering, it's a commitment. People are hungry all year-round.
'˜But, it doesn't have to be a major commitment, it could be four hours a month '“Â just something on a regular basis.'
FoodCycle is a national charity with about 30 projects across the country.
Twice a week in Portsmouth, volunteers provideÂ up to 140 three-course vegetarian meals that they prep and serve themselves, from surplus food collected from supermarkets and independent retailers.
Roughly 12 helpers meet every Tuesday at the John Pounds Centre and every Thursday at the King's Church in Southsea to do so.
Gail, who has worked for FoodCycle Portsmouth for two years,Â adds: '˜On Tuesdays volunteers prep from 5pm, guests come at 7pm andÂ we aim to finish at 9pm. On Thursdays service is the same butÂ volunteers start at 4pm.
'˜The great thing is volunteersÂ can do the whole four-hour slot, or do two hours andÂ just come to prep food, or just come to serve.
'˜TheyÂ can also be front of house, van drivers, co-ordinate other volunteers, do social media and more.
'˜We have about 800 on the database and that's a fairly clean list, but I'd say about 200 are active.
'˜We'd rather have more than we need because sometimes people aren't available or they drop out or stop volunteering.
'˜We do get some that join at ChristmasÂ and stay on after but many drop off, they get hyped up with the Christmas spirit and then stop helping.
'˜It doesn't mean they're bad people, it's just the way it is, but I would really encourage people to help out at other times of the year.
'˜You get tonnes out of it, it makes you buzz and gets your adrenaline going, it's quite exciting becauseÂ you get to witness people being helpedÂ .
'˜It's given me a much better insight into the broad range of people out there and the circumstances they face. I love it.'
FoodCycle PortsmouthÂ has been up-and-running for almost five years. The project started at the John Pounds Centre and continued atÂ the King'sÂ Church 12-18 months later.
Volunteers are given full training.Â
Gail adds: '˜We provide more than free meals. People have said if we served toast they'd still come along '“Â Â it's a chance for people to get out the house and interact with others, they can turn up on the day.
'˜Our volunteer van drivers go out six times a week toÂ collect food surplus or food that's within use but past its display or best before date.
'˜Then we sort it all out and anything we can't use is passed on to food banks or other charities '“ nothing is ever wasted.'
Those who can't volunteer but still want Â to help can donate money. The charity does not accept food, as it is required to know where food comes from and the conditions it has been kept in.
David Oliver, known as Ollie, has been volunteering with FoodCycleÂ Portsmouth for 18 months and nowÂ Â can't imagine what his life would be like without the chance to help those in need.
The 40-year-old project leader for the John Pounds Centre weekly session says: '˜I was always looking for something to do. I'd come home from work in the evening and sit around and I knew IÂ could be doing something useful instead.Â Â
'˜A friend of mine already volunteered with the charity so I started helping out and I haven't looked back since '“Â it's a part of my life now.
'˜The amount of people we get asking if they can volunteer with us at ChristmasÂ is crazy,Â but the truth is we need people at all times of the year.Â Â
'˜As part of their courses University of Portsmouth students volunteer with us so when they are at home during the holidays we can struggle.'
Ollie, from Fratton, works as an office supervisor for MMD Shipping Services during the day.
He adds: '˜We get the same feeling each week seeing guests happy and chatting to them that we do around Christmas '“Â it's still just as satisfying.'
Project leaders run each session and ensure they run smoothly and in line with health and safety regulations andÂ engage all other volunteers in the work.Â
Ollie also looks after social media and attends meetings during the week. He adds: '˜ItÂ is quite a commitment for me, but it's worth it.'
VisitÂ foodcycle.org.uk to find out more.Â
A springboard into employment
FromÂ the beginning of December, The Salvation Army has to turn away people wanting to volunteerÂ because all of the charity's positions have been filled.
Church leader Major Ian Urmston, who works at the Southsea branch of the Christian charity, said people make more of a conscious effort to help out at Christmas.
He says: '˜We have all of our volunteers lined up from the beginning of December really.
'˜There's definitely a surge at Christmas, I find it's a lot of professionals wanting to give something back.
'˜It's a time of year when many realise some people out there really need help.
'˜We have about 25 volunteers helping out at our Christmas Day dinner which we put on for 60-80 people in need or who would be alone on the day in the community.
'˜But we do have other volunteer positions across Portsmouth that people can take up all year.'
There are roles available in a number of the Salvation Army'sÂ charity shops, catering facilities, and general help is needed like with theÂ befriending service.
'˜That's one people really enjoy because they get to work with other people and see lives transform,' says Ian.Â
'˜People come to us with a number of addictions and completely turn their lives around with help.
'˜Volunteering is more than just doing something, it's really contributing to life of the city and individuals.
'˜For some, it's a springboard back into employment.'
The charity exists to '˜save souls, grow saints and serve suffering humanity'.
For more information, go toÂ salvationarmy.org.uk